II FORUM ON MERCOSUR AND THE VISEGRAD COUNTRIES
MEMORANDUM ON CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I) INTRODUCTION

The II Forum on the Mercosur and Visegrad countries was held in Buenos Aires on 31 July and 1 August 2003, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and International Trade of the Argentine Republic together with the Institute for the Integration of Latin American and the Caribbean of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB-INTAL) and the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI, in its Spanish acronym).

The Secretary of Trade and International Economic Relations, Ambassador Martín Redrado and Ambassadress Mrs. Edita Hrda of the Czech Republic in Buenos Aires, opened the Forum. Participants in the discussions included the Minister of Agriculture of the Czech Republic, Eng. Jaroslav Palas, Deputy Minister for the Negotiations with the European Union under said ministry, Miroslav Toman -both visiting the farm, livestock and industrial exhibition of the Sociedad Rural in Buenos Aires- as well as the Ambassadors in the Argentine Republic of Brazil, Dr. Jose Botafogo Goncalves, and of Uruguay, Dr Alberto Volonté; the Head of the Institute for the Integration of Latin American and the Caribbean of the Inter-American Development Bank, Dr Juan José Taccone; renowned experts and academics of the Mercosur countries and the Czech Republic and top officials of the Visegrad countries’ Embassies. At the closing of the Forum, the Under Secretary of Foreign Policy at the Foreign Relations Ministry, Ambassador Dr Juan José Uranga, urged the countries to continue fostering along this way the support and reinforcement of the cooperation between the two sub-regions and regions.

II) POLITICAL COOPERATION

The Forum welcomed the entry of Hungary, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics -Visegrad nations- to the European Union -scheduled for May 2004- who in turn expressed their interest in the attainment of a prompt and positive conclusion of the Mercosur - European Union biregional agreement, currently under negotation, for the establishment of a mutually benefitial free trade area and of mechanisms for political dialogue and cooperation.

Participants agreed that the origins and aspirations of the Visegrad and Mercosur in the fields of international peace and security, largely precede -in the history of their respective countries- the recent dates of their establishment in the ‘90s: the Visegrad dates back to the XIV century and the Mercosur in the Iberic Peninsula and its projection into the New World in the late XVI until the middle of the following century.

There was also agreement on the important opportunities for relations between the two groups of countries through European community issues due, respectively, to the Visegrad membership of the European Union and the biregional agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, as well as in a more direct way, through such other also relevant questions as their similar experience in the economic transformations of their respective countries, the full enforcement of democratic institutions and the challenges posed by globalization. Such agreement was equally extended to the important possibilities for cooperation in international bodies and organizations for the fight against terrorism, hunger, poverty and underdevelopment, as well as for the promotion of the respect for human rights and the full enforcement of the United Nations.

III) TRADE AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION

On the trade side, research work undertaken by institutions from Mercosur countries showed a trend that, at first sight, the biregional association Agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur would offer greater trade gains than the possible losses in the community market due to the entry of new members scheduled for May 2004. However, some still wanted to know in greater detail about the trade complementarities. Participants from the Mercosur business sector voiced their interest and optimism about future trade and economic relations with the Visegrad countries and recommended to diversify business contacts on a sector-by-sector basis.

In that sense, full agreement was reached on the need and importance to foster greater reciprocal knowledge between the Visegrad and Mercosur countries, which could also include the other Latin American nations, in order to identify, establish and encourage new trade and economic flows and to deepen the existing ones. It was necessary to overcome the antinomy whereby ‘trade is small because of how scarcely we know each other and we scarcely know each other because trade is small’. There was also agreement on the fact that achieving substantive cooperation requires concrete proposals to such end. The Forum underscored thus the importance of the political will to undertake and implement activities and measures of the apropriate nature, including exploratory ones, that would contribute to identify concrete proposals to further mutual knowledge and understanding, as well as cooperation between the Visegrad countries and Mercosur.

The Chairman of the Argentine Chamber of Exporters made reference to the long standing trade routes and access ways to the Visegrad countries and highlighted the need and importance to foster trade and the market development with those countries. In this respect, he stated that the Chamber had decided to set up an ‘observatory’ on the Visegrad to closely follow the development and evolution of its member countries, conduct analyses and devise proposals for trade expansion with Mercosur.

- Follow - up to the I Forum’s recommendations

The Forum welcomed the progress made in implementing the recommendations approved by the I Forum held in Prague in April 2002, including the organization of the II Forum, the advances made towards the creation of a Centre for the Latin American Economic and Political Studies (CLEPS-CEEPAL) in Prague and the exchange between the business communities of Visegrad and Mercosur countries, which began at the Mercosur-European Union Business Forum in Madrid in May 2002.

The creation of Centres for Economic and Political Studies -based on the joint cooperation amongst University, Entrepreneurship and Government in order to foster concrete as well as action oriented activities- pointed to the importance of setting up other Centres similar to that of Prague in the Visegrad, Mercosur and Latin American countries that wished to do so, for the encouragement and the fostering mutual knowledge between both regions, their countries, their main protagonists and, to that end, to undertake -by way of example- the following activities:

  1. Offer a rostrum for visiting authorities, high-level executives, renowned academics and journalists from the Visegrad, Mercosur and Latin America;
  2. Organize academic-business research, courses, seminars and conferences with the participation of high-level business executives and governmental officials aimed at identifying issues and areas of mutual interest to foster trade and economic relations;
  3. Implement internships for government officials and business employees in, respectively, business, banks and trade firms and in official institutions and organizations;
  4. Set up information exchange and labour networks among academic, business, official and government institutions building on the existing networks in their respective countries and implementing paths by identifying the academic and political ones from those related to trade, business and economic fields, both private as well as official or governmental, setting their appropriate network links together.

The Universities, Foreign Trade Institutes, Business Chambers and Study Centers in the Visegrad and European Union countries as well as in the Mercosur and the rest of the Latin American countries -in case they wished so- should be contacted to join in the academic-business works and the setting up of information exchange networks.

- Strengthening the Mercosur-Visegrad ties

Special reference was made to the Inter-American Development Bank Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (IADB-INTAL) and the Mercosur Chair in Sciences-Po in Paris as well as the cooperation schemes of the European Union and Inter-American Development Bank due to their regional and biregional scope.

In the case of the Argentine Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Relations and International Trade has decided to use its Program on Institutional Strengthening of the Ministry with the IADB (Operation 1279 oc-ur IADB) to implement a research study on the identification of possible trade products between the Visegrad and the Mercosur -Czech Republic and Argentina. To that end, it has the intention of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between the Center in Prague and the above-mentioned Program on Institutional Stregthening of the Foreign Ministry. In turn, it will also propose the Czech Republic to conduct a second joint study on the impact of its accession to the European Union on her trade relations with Argentina, extendible to the Visegrad and Mercosur. To that effect, the Ministry is updating the report prepared early in 2002by the Cente for International Economics.

The Director of the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB-INTAL) compared the efforts being made to expand trade and economic relations between Mercosur and the Visegrad countries, with the similar exercise being implemented, with the participation of the IADB, between Latin America and South East Asia with the involvement of the private sector, known as ‘Latin American Economic and Business Association -LAEBA’. He added that the Mercosur and the Visegrad countries face a big opportunity, as effective and prestigious centres in Mercosur can be linked to to similar ones in the Visegrad countries, that will prompt information exchange and possible joint actions which will project such ‘seeds’ resulting from their respective progressively greater knowledge to their respective public and goverment levels. INTAL will continue supporting this whole process between the Mercosur and the Visegrad countries and trusts that some Internet-based exchange may be identifed with the European Union and the Visegrad countries.

He stressed also the importance of undertaking concrete studies like the above mentioned ones, which in his experience, will encourage the future meetings to consider concrete opportunities and possibilities, thus making headway from the previous and present exchange of ideas to the consideration of concrete proposals. This is what should be expected to happen at the meeting scheduled for next year

IV) SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

With the purporse to further develop and strengthen the Visegrad-Mercosur relations and links, the Forum recommended to:

  1. Continue promoting the mutual knowledge between the existing business associations, chambers and centers in the Visegrad and Mercosur countries, including the creation of data bases in coordination with those entities, for the dissemination of their information for their respective participation in trade and economic Fairs and Exhibitions and the organization of business missions.
  2. In keeping with the similar recommendation at the I Forum, to invite Visegrad private entrepreneurs and business managers -through the abovementioned institutions- to participate in the Mercosur-European Union Forum to be held in Brasilia on October 28, 2003.
  3. Continue with the establishment of the Center for Latin American Economic and Political Studies (CLEPS-CEEPAL) in Prague and to further the creation of similar ones in other Visegrad countries that wished to do so, as well as the corresponding ones in Mercosur and Latin American countries interested in doing so.
  4. Set-up a web page within the framework of the Mercosur-Visegrad Forum, displaying the I and presente II Fora, containing links to other pages that may be developed, based on the present conclusions and recommendations and to existing websites of academic, business centres and associations, as well as official and governmental
  5. Organize the III Mercosur-Visegrad Forum in the first semester of 2004, to deal principally with the impact of their countries’ joining the European Union on their trade relations with the Mercosur, to be held in one of the Visegrad countries.
  6. Jointly request for support to deepen and expand relations between Mercosur and the Visegrad, with the participation of other Latin American countries that may wish to do so, through their Permanent Missions and Representations - of the involved countries - to the European Union in Brussels, to their representations to the IADB and to other international financial and organizations.
  7. Identifying other areas for biregional relations succeptible for being fostered through similar meetings like the present one, within the framework of their respective subject areas.

Buenos Aires, August 1st, 2003

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