Regionalisation: a stepping-stone to integration?
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CTA. 1998. Regionalisation: a stepping-stone to integration?. Spore 78. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Despite the waves of globalisation that are roaring across the world, the older notion of 'regionalisation' is gaining favour amongst policy makers on all continents. This time, it appears that regionalisation is being promoted as a defensive...
Despite the waves of globalisation that are roaring across the world, the older notion of 'regionalisation' is gaining favour amongst policy makers on all continents. This time, it appears that regionalisation is being promoted as a defensive reaction to the damage that unfettered globalisation is wreaking on weaker economies and societies. Increased regional cooperation, so people argue, could be a way to strengthen a sector, such as agriculture, before it is fully exposed to the world's market-place. But regionalisation in most ACP countries and regions has not become the powerful force predicted. Dreams can come true, but is regionalisation destined to remain an illusion? The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rubens Ricupero, characterised regionalisation as 'An implicit 'insurance policy' for the developing countries in case globalisation and liberalisation produce undesirable consequences', and as one of the most hotly debated international topics in recent years. Of course, the topic does not concern developing countries alone. Quite the contrary, economic and political cooperation within Europe is still drawing the attention of people from all over the world. For developing countries, however, it may be more of a matter of life and death than it is for the rich, industrialised nations. For ACP countries it is especially relevant, as negotiations proceed on the future of the Lomé Convention. Regional integration in the South presented itself as an issue as early as three decades ago, but for a long time it was often more of an ambition than a political reality. How long, for instance, did it take the Organization of African Unity to prepare its members for an African Economic Community? (The Treaty establishing this Community finally entered into force in 1994.) In the Caribbean and the Pacific the sheer lack of infrastructure in itself was an enormous obstacle preventing integration from materialising. After all, most small nations in these regions had closer relations with former colonial powers overseas than with each other. In the current debate on regionalisation in the South a distinction is made between old and new regionalism. The former is considered to have been an aim in itself, when developing countries refused to join either party in the Cold War that was then raging. The latter is seen much more as an instrument, particularly in order to adjust in one way or another to the globalisation processes underway. At any rate regionalism is not just a matter of increasing trade, but has a clear security dimension and touches on development in the broadest sense of the word. An attractive strategy or the excluded In a conference on regional integration in November of last year in The Hague, Professor Björn Hettne of Sweden's University of Göteborg pointed out that the 'basic problem with globalisation is that it is uneven and selective'. As a result, he said, the benefits for some are balanced by misery, conflict and violence for others and in the longer run these negative features pose a threat to all humanity. Against the background of such uncertainties, regionalism is become a strategy to achieve security and development for those excluded by globalisation. Regionalism as a strategy is especially attractive to the so-called 'peripheral' regions, which are politically turbulent and economically stagnant. Their regional arrangements, however, reflect the weaknesses of their state structures and civil institutions. Here regionalism can only work once the nations involved have come to grips with domestic violence and poverty. No wonder they tend to interpret regionalism in a protectionist way. In 'intermediate regions' the character of regionalism is more open. These regions are at present closely linked to one of the three 'core regions', which are Europe, North America and East Asia. The nations in an intermediate region try to conform to the criteria of being part of a core region, which are sustained economic development and political stability. As they succeed in these efforts, they gradually get incorporated into the core. ACP countries constitute partly peripheral and partly intermediate regions. The Caribbean as a whole is considered to be part of an intermediate region that is becoming 'North Americanised', although the Mercosur bloc in the 'cone' of South America (which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) may put up some resistance to the neoliberalism prevalent in North America. In the Pacific, especially the southern part, there is a clear tendency of nations being drawn into the core region of East Asia, but at the same time this is counter-balanced by the risk of sinking into the periphery. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Southern and, to a lesser extent, West Africa have the potential to emerge as intermediate regions. William Lyakurwa, Deputy Director of the African Economic Research Consortium, Kenya, considers that 'There is a window of opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa to use regional integration as a supranational mechanism to foster national policy credibility, and as a means for pooling risks between otherwise vulnerable small economies; to resolve conflicts and minimise political risks; to exploit complementarities; and to develop regionally-based links on a reciprocal and mutually beneficial basis.' A lot depends, however, on short-term developments in Eastern Africa, South Africa and Nigeria. The rest of SSA seems likely to remain in the periphery for an indefinite period of time. A fair chance to compete? In the North, the attitude towards regional cooperation in the South is generally positive, provided the governments of the South do not aim at achieving some sort of collective self-reliance in their respective regions. Integration of developing countries in the world economy has always been, and still is, the primary objective of the countries in the core regions, as the European Commission made clear in its Green Paper on relations between the European Union and the ACP countries on the eve of the 21st century (1997). The big questions are: on what terms are developing countries allowed to feature more prominently on the world stage and which role shall be assigned to them? Are they really getting a chance of developing into equal partners, as the rhetoric from the dominant economic powers easily asserts? Or is globalisation merely designed to condemn them to a permanent second-rank position, where their primary functions are to serve as an outlet and dumping place for goods and services from the core regions, and as a source of relatively cheap inputs including manpower? For the time being the multilateral system, in which nearly all nations take part, is not working in favour of the poor countries. Recent developments in the fields of international finance have made it abundantly clear that the interests of the backbenchers in the world economy are not on the agenda of the powers that be and that even newly industrialising nations run the risk of being set back suddenly (e.g. the Asian crisis). These events once more point to the need for developing countries themselves to get their act together, which requires more effort than ever to make South-South cooperation work. More realistic food security An issue that is especially relevant to ACP countries is food security. So far, the advocates of globalisation and liberalisation have not been able to prove that their objectives are compatible with the basic need of food security on the lowest possible level. No wonder the South-North Centre in Lisbon clearly stated in a paper for the 1996 World Food Summit that 'at regional and inter-regional level greater South-South cooperation could contribute substantially to greater food security'. The strongest regional grouping within the ACP group, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), is well-known for the role it plays in regional food security. Percy S. Mistry, Chairman of the Oxford International Group: 'For the region to achieve and retain food self-sufficiency, the production of maize and other cereals must shift from the irrigated, semi-arid areas of the South African veldt to higher potential rain-fed areas further north in Angola, Zambia, northern Zimbabwe, Malawi, northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, where regular rainfall is higher (despite droughts) as is soil fertility and water retention capacity. A regional rather than a national approach to this critical strategic challenge faced by SADC would permit the settlement of new land areas in a manner which reconciled meeting the food requirements of the region with the imperative of addressing thorny and urgent land reform and redistribution problems in South Africa and Zimbabwe.' Better be sustainable The concept of sustainable development represents another example that underlines the need for regional integration. Again, the macro-economic policy twins of globalisation and liberalisation have never been seriously tested on their compatibility with this concept, as it was adopted by the world community in the 1992 Rio conference on environment and development. One feature of globalisation as it works at present is increasing mobility, of goods and people. The consequences for the environment are not incorporated in transportation costs, neither at the producer's nor the consumer's end. It would make sense to ensure that raw materials are ? at least partly ? processed as near the source as possible instead of being shipped to the other end of the world to be processed and returned again as finished products. Peter B. Robinson, Zimconsult, Zimbabwe: 'In the realm of natural resource management and tourism, properly conceived regional cooperation has considerable potential to contribute to sustainable growth'. In terms of environmentally-friendly criteria, regional integration is good in so far as it enables a group of countries to build a collective fully-fledged economy and change limited domestic markets into a large common market. Regional cooperation among groups of ACP countries is bound to be discussed, as the future relationship between them and the European Union takes shape. It is to be hoped that in this context the advantages of such cooperation in itself get sufficient attention, even though the political incentives are minimal. As Alieu Jeng, Principal Economist at the African Development Bank explains: 'It is easy for integration agreements to be violated because there is no constituency back home to whom the politician is accountable. He is not required to answer to his people and explain why he has opted out of an integration. To hold the politician accountable, the integration arrangement and the issues related to it have to be extensively discussed and the people have to be informed.' No one should take for granted that regionalism must be a stepping stone to full integration in the world market. In fact, it could ? with commitment ? provide an alternative to the dogma of globalisation which, as all things mortal, will one day wither and die.
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