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Mercosur Opens the Doors to Socialism

The MERCOSUR alliance officially welcomed Venezuela as a permanent member.

By ALONSO SOTO | REUTERS | AUGUST 1, 2012

On his first foreign trip since undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba earlier this year, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hailed his country’s welcome by fellow South American leaders into a troubled regional trade bloc on Tuesday.

Ignoring criticism that Venezuela’s entry could eventually cause greater dysfunction among the Mercosur trade bloc’s members, Chavez cast the event as a continuation of his self-styled revolution and a sign of greater ascendance for South America as a whole.

“Our north is the south,” the Venezuelan president said, evoking Simon Bolivar and other revolutionaries who wrested the continent from colonial rule. “Mercosur is, without a doubt, the most powerful engine that exists to preserve our independence.”

Chavez, who recently declared himself cancer-free, stood at a podium throughout his 20-minute speech in Brazil’s capital and spoke in a clear, strong voice. Later, after a meeting at Brazil’s foreign ministry, he jigged and declared that his health “is very good, as you can see.”

The meeting was overshadowed by controversial events that enabled Venezuela’s entry into Mercosur, which also includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The grouping now accounts for about $3.3 trillion in combined gross domestic product, and the leaders said it would be the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were a single nation.

The expansion of Mercosur was criticized by many who see a paradox in the protectionist policies and leftist slant that increasingly have come to dominate a bloc originally created to liberalize trade.

After years of stalled negotiations with Caracas, the group hastily accepted Venezuela despite the objections of Paraguay, a marked absence at Tuesday’s meeting. The other three countries made their invitation to Chavez after suspending Paraguay in June because of the controversial impeachment there by conservative legislators of leftist president Fernando Lugo.

That move troubled critics, who said it was emblematic of the decline of a bloc that was founded in 1995, at a time when a group of free-market reformers was dominant in the region.

“What was once an economic bloc has now been reduced to a political sideshow,” said Mario Marconini, a former Brazilian trade secretary who is now a business consultant in Sao Paulo. The inclusion of Venezuela despite the veto of a full-fledged member, “is a fatal blow to its economic credibility.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Tuesday that Paraguay’s suspension is justified until the country “normalizes” its internal politics. Brazil and other neighboring countries have argued that Paraguay must proceed with its regularly scheduled presidential elections next year before they consider its government to be stable.

FOCUS ON CHAVEZ

Most of the other leaders present glazed over the Paraguay controversy, and focused instead on criticizing the orthodox economic policies of the developed world. They cited Mercosur as a vehicle that could further regional goals of fair trade, equitable growth and social inclusion.

Chavez said construction companies from Mercosur countries should take part in ongoing projects to build millions of subsidized homes in Venezuela. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said the region would continue to produce all-important raw materials for the global economy, but demanded “financial stability” in return from richer countries.

Mercosur, she said, could “make this new pole of power indivisible, indestructible.”

Chavez, who has spent more than 13 years in office, has pursued a personality driven government that has scared away foreign investors and crippled productivity. His acceptance by Mercosur, opponents say, will give him one more thing to boast about as he campaigns for another six-year term ahead of Venezuela’s presidential election in October.

Officially, the leaders hailed Venezuela’s strengths as a major oil producer and an important market for everything from Brazilian machinery to Argentine wheat. In practice, though, Venezuela can’t fully participate in the bloc until it agrees to accept a common tariff adopted by Mercosur, common agreements with third-party countries and other prerequisites that Chavez has failed to embrace since talks for inclusion began in 2006.

In a statement Tuesday, Brazil’s National Industry Confederation, a powerful business group, reminded Venezuela that “the new member has obligations to fulfill.” Citing the common tariff and other existing bloc conventions, the group urged Mercosur to establish a timeline by which Venezuela must comply.

Mercosur, the group added, “should focus on reinforcing the stability and predictability of the economic bloc.”

BLOC IS ALREADY TROUBLED

Many fear Venezuela will only complicate relations in an already dysfunctional grouping. “The bloc is a mess,” said Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian representative to Mercosur who is now a consultant.

“Just imagine if you start adding Venezuela and others,” he said, noting recent discussions to include Bolivia and Ecuador, two countries with close ties to Chavez.

Tuesday’s ceremony was accompanied by a trickle of business as Chavez and Rousseff formalized a previously disclosed plan by Conviasa, the Venezuelan airline, to purchase 100-seat jets made by Embraer, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer. Under the terms

of the agreement, Conviasa will pay about $270 million for six Embraer 190 jets, with an option for 14 more.

Meanwhile, Venezuela and Argentina signed an agreement for greater investment in each other’s oil sector. PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil producer, will invest in Argentine petrochemicals, and YPF, its Argentine counterpart, will invest in Venezuelan oil fields, according to the agreement.

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G20 Nations Slam Quantitative Easing

Emerging nations also take measures to avoid currency valuation against the purposely concocted fall of the dollar.

Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama defended the Federal Reserve’s policy of printing dollars on Monday after China and Russia stepped up criticism ahead of this week’s Group of 20 meeting.

The G20 summit has been pitched as a chance for leaders of the countries that account for 85 percent of world output to prevent a currency row escalating into a rush to protectionism that could imperil the global recovery.

But there is little sign of consensus.

The summit has been overshadowed by disagreements over the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing (QE) policy under which it will print money to buy $600 billion of government bonds, a move that could depress the dollar and cause a potentially destabilising flow of money into emerging economies.

“I will say that the Fed’s mandate, my mandate, is to grow our economy. And that’s not just good for the United States, that’s good for the world as a whole,” Obama said during a trip to India.

“And the worst thing that could happen to the world economy, not just ours, is if we end up being stuck with no growth or very limited growth,” he said.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said all participants at a meeting of the world’s central bankers in Basel, Switzerland had insisted they were not pursuing weak currency policies.

“We’re attached to avoiding excessive volatility. It’s very counterproductive for global growth and global stability,” he told a news conference.

Washington has frequently criticised China, saying it deliberately undervalues its currency to boost exports.

China says the United States, via the Fed, is engaged in the same thing that it stands accused of, and some emerging nations have already acted to curb their currencies’ rise.

Resentment abroad stems from worry that Fed pump-priming will hasten the U.S. dollar’s slide and cause their currencies to shoot up in value, setting the stage for asset bubbles and making a future burst of inflation more likely.

“As a major reserve currency issuer, for the United States to launch a second round of quantitative easing at this time, we feel that it did not recognise its responsibility to stabilise global markets and did not think about the impact of excessive liquidity on emerging markets,”  Chinese Finance Vice Minister Zhu Guangyao said on Monday.

The Fed’s quantitative easing policy was unveiled last week to jeers from emerging market powerhouses from Latin America to Asia. Russia renewed its assault on Monday.

“Russia’s president will insist …. that such actions are taken with preliminary consultations with other members of the global economy,” said Arkady Dvorkovich, a Russian official who is preparing the country’s position in Seoul.

Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Hirohide Yamaguchi said on Monday that it too was ready to boost its asset-buying scheme if it saw clear signs of a downturn. Worth 5 trillion yen ($62 billion), it is so far just a tenth the size of the Fed’s.

U.S. DROPS KEY DEMAND

India is Obama’s first stop in a 10-day trip to Asia that will include Indonesia and Japan.

He will arrive in Seoul for the Nov. 11-12 summit weakened by a crushing congressional election defeat for his Democratic Party and under fire from all sides. Germany described U.S. economic policy as “clueless” last week.

The U.S. has already all but dropped its centrepiece proposal for the G20 — a measure that would cap current account balances at 4 percent of gross domestic product, something economists said was clearly aimed at China.

At the weekend, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner backed away from the numerical target that had been rejected by China, Germany, Japan and others in a sign that global financial power had slipped from U.S. hands.

On Monday, he was putting on a brave face, saying China was supportive of the G20’s framework for rebalancing the global economy, and that he expected broad consensus on it at the summit.

The risk of a negative outcome in Seoul appears to be increasing, or at the very least, an agreement that merely papers over the huge gaps and allows countries to pursue their own economic policies whether it be intervening in currency markets like South Korea and Japan or printing dollars.

“Judging by the critical response of emerging market governments to QE, the likelihood of a ceasefire in the currency war is slim,” RBC Capital markets said in a report published on Monday.