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Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007-2008: Diversity and Challenges

Fecha:2008/02/27 Autor:Liu Weiguang

On February 27 2008, an international forum under the theme of “Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007-2008: Diversity and Challenges” was held at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing.  The event was jointly sponsored by the CASS Academic Division of International Studies and the CASS Bureau of International Cooperation as well as the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) and supported by the Chinese Association for Latin American Studies and the Social Sciences Academic Press. The forum is the forth one since 2005 that makes an annual review of the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean .
      Mr. Cheng Siwei, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Mr. Li Jinzhang, Vice Minister of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and Mr. Chen Fengxiang, Vice Minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee were invited to deliver keynote speeches. Mr. Li Shenming, Vice President of the CASS, addressed the meeting on behalf of the host. The conference was jointly moderated by Mr. Yang Yang, Chief of the CASS Bureau of International Cooperation and Mr. Zheng Bingwen, Director-General of the ILAS. More than 150 participants from government, research communiyu, diplomativ missions in Beijinh as well as from the local media.
      Part One: VIP Speeches In his speech, Cheng Siwei pointed out that the region underwent a remarkable and sustainable growth in recent years, which is an important phenomenon deserving Chinese scholars’ interest. In 2007, the regional economy was remarkable. It maintained a robust growth in a pleasant macro-economic environment. With efforts to readjust  policies, some authorities adopted inflation targeting as a newinstrument. Thanks to economic growth, many countries witnessed an improvement of distribution of income, increase of employment and reduction of poverty. He called for a continuous attention of theto such developments that might suggest signs of  policy reforms  of respective economies in the region.
      Along with his observation of  reform moves in Latin America, Cheng also made a review of China’s reform in the past three decades.  He stressed that the Chinese experience could be summed up tofour characteristics: first, the reform incentives basically come from the people, but are respected and effectively guided by the ruling power, namely the leadership of the Communist Party ; second, each major reformist step was cautiously taken according to the country’s abilities; so related is the third lesson that throughout the Chinese reform process the philosophy and tactics of pragmatism and gradualism always prevail; last but not least, policy-making was based on earlier reformist experiments and numerous discussions/debates. Currently the reform has entered into a key stage and is confronting challenges of rebalancing rule of law and administrative enforcement, fairness and efficiency, government power and market force, etc. To proceed with the reform process, China needs to draw on the experiences from Latin America. Meanwhile, China’s experiences may also provide an reference to the Latin American counterparts. In Cheng’s view, there exists a great potential to further expand the Sino-Latin American trade which will help both parties not just to sustain their economic growth, but significantly encounter negative effects of global economy
      Mr. Li Shenming highly praised the performance of the LAC countries in economic, political and societal fields in recent years. He noted that based on political stability, these countries were able to conduct economic reforms , fianlly reversed the worsening situations and regained growth momentum. With the benefits stemmed from such successes, many governments were also empowered to addressthe challenge of poverty. All achievements seemed to prove that the LAC countries  had steadily approached   right development strategy and improved institutions that fit local conditions. By referring to the region’s progress, from the unprecedented growth digit to impressive social indicators in 2007, Mr. Li expressed his optimism of the LAC future, foreseeing it as a region of profound development potentials and a greater contributor to the international course of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
      Mr. Li Jinzhang said that entering the new century, the Sino-Latin American relations embarked on a fast track of development, manifesting an all-dimensional, wide-ranging and multi-level growth momentum. High-level exchanges between governments had become closer and mutual political trust has deepened. China hoped to build a comprehensive and cooperative partnership that fostered equality, mutual benefit and common development between the two sides. Such desire was well accepted  by the Latin American and Caribbean countries. The bilateral cooperation in trade, finance, resources, energy, infrastructure, high technology, agriculture and other sectors smoothly expanded, while the cultural and people-to-people exchanges increased to a great extent. Both China and Latin America were at the same stage of development, facing the same task of development and thus they share extensive common interests. As long as each continued to treat the other equally, and accommodate theother party's core concerns, both could become reliable partners that benefit from long-term cooperation.
      Mr. Chen Fengxiang contended that the world today is undergoing profound and complex changes. Against the backdrop of economic globalization,the LAC governments adapted their domestic and foreign policies to the changing circumstances in recent years and concentrated on seeking coordinated economic and social development. Concequently, they took an ever-great effort toexplore a distinctive pattern of development that entailed increasing diversified policy practices among the LAC members. Such a trend was noteworthy as it might undermine coherent or concerted positions of the LAC countries on advancing the regional integration. With regard to the Sino-Latin American relations, China should take further actions to deepen its understanding of the regional affairs and seek to establish a stable and efficient cooperation mechanism, forging of a new type of Sino-Latin American strategic partnership.
      Part two: Speeches by LAC Envoys to China
      Mr. Song Xiaoping, Deputy-Director General of ILAS, moderated the session. Three Latin American ambassadors, including Mr. Wayne McCook, Jamaican Ambassador to China, Mr. Carlos Miguel Pereira, Cuban Ambassador to China, and Mr. Mohamed Isaak Soerokarso, Surinamese Ambassador to China, were invited to address the audience.
      Mr. Wayne McCook gave a general review of the political, economic and societal situation in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). He pointed out that the representative democracy in the Caribbean was in the process of consolidation and a strong two-party political system was developing in quite a number of regional countries to cement political stability. According to him, the Caribbean integration was undergoing a sound development in recent years. It was planned to fully establish the Common Market by stages from 2008 to 2015. The CARICOM members already signed a series of FTA agreements to deepen economic integration. Currently the financial integration and the liberation of service trade among them were under research. The Community already implemented the policies on convertibility of their individual currencies, but a monetary union was still in stagnation. It is especially noteworthy that the members were promoting their political integration, first through intensifying foreign policy coordination. CARICOM also tended to accelerate its cooperation with neighboring countries. It launched a summit mechanism with Cuba. Cuba joined the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Mechanism to promote its economic partnership with CARICOM. CARICOM reached a preliminary agreement with the Republic of Dominica on free trade. In his opinion, transnational crime, drug and arms trafficking were the common challenges to regional countries. In addition, they had to overcome the threat from climate change. All those factors caused the member countries to stand together  to work out an coordinated policy for a common and sustainable development.
      Mr. Carlos Miguel Pereira acknowledged that since the 1990s, Latin American countries had suffered a high social misforturne as a result of pursuing neo-liberalism. Leaders of the new era, who envisaged the necessity of promoting an inclusive social development, no longer worshiped the Washington Consensus. The region’s reform campaigns were generally under the guidance of leftism, though varied from a structural reform to a limited one specialized in the societal field among different countries. In general, they reflected the determination of regional countries to resist external interference and seek their own development path. The Bolivarian Initiatives jointly launched by Venezuela and Cuba offered an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Its  emphasis was laid on collective actions to reinforce members supply ofmedicine, education, science and technology, trade, financing, energy and etc. So it was rather a society-oriented integration than a market-oriented one. Before concluding his presentation, Ambassador Carlos Miguel Pereira welcomed China to play an increasing role in the region. He disagreed with existing skepticism, saying that China should be viewed as an opportunity for Latin America for promoting their independent development. Mr. Mohamed Isaak Soerokarso presented a summary of geographic, cultural and economic characteristics of Suriname. According to him, since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1976, China and Suriname had developed a fruitful cooperation in political, economic, military and cultural fields. In international affairs, the two countries always support each other and cooperate closely.
      Part Three: The Regional Situation and Prospect
      Professor. Su Zhenxing, Member of the CASS Academic Division and Chairman of the Chinese Association of Latin American Studies, moderated the session.
      Professor Wu Guoping, Assistant to Director-General of and Head of the ILAS Department of Economic Studies, noted that there was a slowdown of economic growth in the region in 2007, but it slightly varied among the sub-regions. Comparatively export lost its momentum in underscoring economic growth in many countries and domestic consumption played a stronger role instead. It was especially significant that the LAC countries were improving their ability to resist impacts from international economic fluctuations., while inflation was still the key challenge for maintaining the macro-economic stability. Under the increasing pressure of currency appreciation and rising inflation, countries elbowed their way through the dilemma. According to Wu, the future way out for the LAC economies were no other than promoting their respective competitiveness in the world markets. At present, however, they needed to take immediate actions meet challenges on both front, i.e., the enlarging public expenditure, the slowdown in export growth and the blows of the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis.
      Mr. Yuan Dongzhen, Head of the ILAS Department of Political Studies, viewed the region as a whole succeess in keeping political stability in 2007 despite minor conflicts occurred in a few countries. Five  countries held general elections and achieved party alternations without political disorder. With the emergence of leftist powers, a number of countries began to launch a new round of reform as a revision of neo-liberalism. Among them, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador conducted a rather radical reform that caused much controversy and even turmoils. Comparatively, central-leftist governments took a moderate position to adjust the neo-liberal development mode.He suggested that Chinese colleagues take the leftist governments as the focus of political developments in the region and pointed to Venezuela and Bolivia as next targets of observation in particular. Yuan anticipated that the radical rulers in these countries might take further actions to push their reforms and therefore entailed political conflicts. Ms. Liu Jixin, Head of the ILAS Department of Societal and Cultural Studies, highlighted progresses of social policies in the region in 2007. She noted that many authorities becam more proactive to seek regional and international cooperation to improve their social conditions. On the whole, social indicators of the region show that most countries had improved policy performance. Against the backdrop, the region continued to enjoy a stable social situation with social conflicts dropped in number and intensity. In some countries, constitutional reforms were carried out as a response to the growing public demand for political and economic rights. However, these developments might cause a renewal of social conflicts. Ms. He Shuangrong, Head of the ILAS Department of International Relations, noted  that the growing leftist forces across Latin America were extending weight on the intra-regional relations and the tie with the United States.  She cited  border disputes and arms rance in the region between Colombia and its Andean neighbors as signs of mistrust that affected the regional integrity. She also made an account of facts that the radical leftist leader had enforced the Bush Administration to adjust its policy toward Latin America. However, she reminded that such a change could not reverse the U.S.-Latin American relations pattern,.since the traditional dependence of the region on the U.S. economy as well as the latter’s overwhelming influence might trade off such tensions in the end.  . This was evidenced by the recent U.S. --Venezuela dispute. Despite severe rhetoric, official relations never broke between the two parties. The good thing, according to her analysis, was an emerging tendency of multi-faceted foreign policy in the region. Except those traditional partners in the Western Hemisphere, the LAC countries had reached out in rapid pace to the Middle East, Afric, and the Asia-Pacific region.
      Part Four: Summary of the Panel Discussion
      1. Economic Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean
      Some participants noted that the region’s performance over the past five years outweighed achievements during any previous economic cycles. Other participants contended that the current growth cycle should not be over-evaluated . It was a dynamic process of long-term economic adjustments that had derived from the earlier periods. The region’s consistent reforms since the 1990s had laid a solid foundation for it. In addition, thanks to the booming global economy since the new century, the region gained an extremely favorable external environment for growth.
On sustainability of economic growth in the region, there were two kinds of opinions among participants. The pessimistic group thought  it was not sustainable, particularly in face of the aggravating world financial crisis. The optimistic  participants argued that the region could survive because many economies were motivated not by foreign trade, but  by rising domestic consumption.
      2. Political Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean
      Participants acknowledged the region’s political stability in recent years as a result of the consolidation of institution. Political institutions played a critical role in restricting politicians and forcing them to accept the election result against their interests.In the 1990s, the reform of election system was popular in the region and in the past 10 years, the reform of constitution was pushed forward. Some participants pointed out that they might carve out a way for the consolidation of democracy in the region.
      3. External Relations of Latin America and the Caribbean
      Some participants believed that the next U.S. government would probably highlight the role of multilateralism, though not to make a strategic adjustment. Other participants expressed doubt about such a prospect. U.S. prioritized goals elsewhere, such as the conclusion of  the Iraq War and the rising Asia including China, would make blind of Latin America.

    4. Social Situation in Latin America and the Caribbean
    Some participants agreed that the LAC improveed social conditions  in 2007 should be mainly ascribed to new development strategies and favorable commodity prices. Other participants argued that the LAC countries would go a long way to solve complex social problems.

 

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