BUENOS AIRES – Mercosur, the South American trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, is holding its 54th Summit of Heads of State this week in the northeastern Argentine city of Santa Fe, a gathering in which Brazil will assume the organization’s six-month rotating presidency.
The following are five key moments since Mercosur was founded in 1991.
1. MERCOSUR IS BORN AND TAKES SHAPE
On March 26, 1991, the presidents of Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay gathered in Paraguay’s capital to sign the Treaty of Asuncion, which established a common market among those four countries.
The 1994 Protocol of Ouro Preto (Brazil) then established the structural framework for the customs union, which began to function on Jan. 1, 1995.
2. MORE PARTNERS JOIN THE BLOC
Bolivia and Chile (1997), Peru (2003), Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela (2004) and Suriname and Guyana (2013) later joined Mercosur as associate members via a series of economic complementation agreements.
Venezuela acceded to full membership in 2012 and the protocol for Bolivia’s accession as a State Party was signed in 2015, although the process for that latter country’s full incorporation has not yet been concluded.
3. LENGTHY NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE EU
In late 1995, the European Union and Mercosur signed an Interregional Cooperation Framework Agreement, which took effect in 1999 and laid the foundation for the negotiation of an association agreement.
The first meeting of the bi-regional Negotiations Committee took place in Buenos Aires in April 2000, after which 30 rounds of talks were held.
The process suffered various interruptions due to adverse political and economic situations.
Finally, Mercosur and the EU announced in Brussels on June 28, 2019, that they had clinched a long-awaited Strategic Association Agreement, which includes a free-trade chapter.
4. IN SEARCH OF MORE MARKETS
Over the course of its 28-year history, Mercosur has celebrated the signing of other trade accords.
They include a free-trade deal inked with the Andean Community in 2003 and another with Israel in 2007.
The South American trade bloc also has sealed free-trade pacts and preferential trade agreements with India (2004), the Southern African Customs Union (2008), Egypt (2010) and the Palestinian Authority (2011), among others.
It is currently in trade negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), Canada, Singapore and South Korea.
5. TWO SUSPENSIONS FOR DEMOCRACY BREACHES
On June 28, 2012, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay decided to suspend Paraguay’s membership in the bloc due to the controversial ouster of then-President Fernando Lugo by that nation’s Congress.
Lugo, who was ousted in a Senate vote just hours after being impeached by the lower house, was removed without “due process,” the remaining members of Mercosur said then.
Paraguay was reincorporated into the bloc the following year.
On Aug. 5, 2017, Mercosur suspended Venezuela after determining that the actions of leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro’s regime constituted a breach of the democratic order.
In both cases, the bloc applied the Montevideo Protocol on Commitment to Democracy in Mercosur, known as Ushuaia II and signed by its members in December 2011.
The protocol lays out the steps to follow in the event of a democratic breach in any of the member countries.