This event was cosponsored by the United Nations Office in New York. You can find more information about the UN Office here. Additionally, a corresponding book discussion was held in New York one day prior to the D.C. event. For more information, please click here.

On April 10th, 2008, the first report in the United Nations University (UNU) Series on Regionalism was presented at the Wilson Center by Phillippe De Lombaerde, a research fellow at the UNU Programme on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), and Raquel Artecona, regional international trade advisor for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Additionally, Mauricio Moreira, with the Integration and Trade Sector of the Inter-American Development Bank, and Jose Raul Perales, a senior program associate with the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, gave commentary on the report and its applications.

Jean-Marc Coicard opened the event with background information on the UNU, noting that it operates much like a think tank, with forty research centers in the world and a focus on studying "global issues from a global perspective."

Phillippe De Lombaerde emphasized that the Series on Regionalism as a whole is a response to the increasing importance of regional schemes and a growing number of new actors in regional and international decision-making. He continued to comment on the main findings of this first report, with a preface that it does not represent the official viewpoint of the United Nations (UN).

The first finding he addressed was the need for reform in the global regulatory architecture of trade and investment. The danger of non-coherence between regions creates problems and the potential for uneven rule making. He also included in this point the need to find a new monetary mechanism as part of trade policy on the regional level.

Secondly, the policy options of low income countries must be reassessed. De Lombaerde stressed the need for better balancing in trade agreements "in favor of the weaker party at the table." Concerning relations between Southern countries, the report recognizes the potential of south-to-south regional schemes, especially in small countries. However, he warned that the demand for new policy initiatives are not always met with adequate resources and, in some cases, overlapping trade integration initiatives do not strengthen countries' economies because each have broad agendas, often leading to inconsistencies.

Raquel Artecona added recommendations that ECLAC makes in addition to those outlined in the report, especially the need for stronger trade institutions, in order to have trade agreements that are more effectively enforced, fully implemented, and integrated into national policy. Additionally, there needs to be greater integration within South America, with stronger institutions, an increase in trade rules and greater convergence of trade agreements. Fortunately, there are strong opportunities for regional cooperation initiatives on energy, infrastructure, and innovation.

Mauricio Moreira, on the other hand, suggested the report may be somewhat outdated for Latin America, as much has changed in the region over the last few years. He explained that the report should be more clear and proactive and its agenda more realistic. For example, although the report stresses the needs of smaller countries, it simultaneously encourages regional bodies to uphold common tariff rules that often favor large countries.

Finally, Jose Raul Perales, from the Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin American Program, commented that the report needed a more nuanced description of "what regional integration means." He also explained that there is often a tension between the focus on regional coordination and the need to pursue national goals. Further, even when interests are aligned, different countries commit to varying degrees. The report could respond to these issues with sharper analysis.

In response to these arguments, De Lombaerde agreed that the definition of regional integration indeed required more detail in the report. In his concluding remarks, he stressed that the amount of inter-regional trade should not be the only measure of success for a regional agreement and that even with an upper limit on international trade, improving relations still makes sense in terms of external trade cooperation, border protection, migration, and investment.

Drafted by Sarah Eversman, STAGE Program
Kent Hughes, Director, STAGE Program

To purchase the book, Multilateralism, Regionalism and Bilateralism in Trade and Investment: 2006 World Report on Regional Integration, please see Springer Science + Business Media.