Speech by Ambassador Allan Wagner, Andean Community Secretary General on "border integration and territorial competitiveness in the Andean Community”

San Cristóbal, Venezuela, April 14, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen:

I deeply value the opportunity to meet with you today on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, recognized as being the most active border in the Andean Community countries, to speak about the subject of Border Integration and Territorial Competitiveness among the Member Countries.

I would like to start off by pointing out that the Strategic Design I proposed for the Andean Community at the beginning of my term as Secretary General, and which received the backing of the Andean Presidents at the Quito Summit (July 2004), recognizes the vital importance of border development for Andean integration and, in this connection, incorporates and gives continuity to the efforts undertaken in this area by the Member countries and the General Secretariat as of the year 1999.

The proposed Strategic Design presents Andean integration as the link between the external agenda adopted by our countries to confront globalization, and the internal agenda whose challenges are development, the antipoverty effort and social cohesion. There are three key areas of action in this context: the deepening of trade integration; the reincorporation of the development dimension with a competitiveness and social inclusion approach; and political cooperation on the social agenda.

The development of our borders is an issue that cuts transversally across these three key areas of action of our integration process. By way of example, in order to promote trade between our countries, it is first necessary to facilitate the movement of goods, persons and services in border areas by implementing in practice actions that promote respect for Andean legislation. Furthermore, it is impossible to accomplish the objective of increasing the subregion’s competitiveness without a project for the comprehensive development of our borders, paradoxically known as being marginal areas for the most part. And lastly, borders constitute vital areas for decentralized political cooperation on themes like governance and security and for the implementation of projects to promote social cohesion.

During the early years of the Andean Integration process, land borders were viewed with interest and began to take on importance. It was soon discovered, however, that the borders did not operate like “open doors,” like “hinges” intended to efficiently coordinate the flow of goods, but, on the contrary, served as veritable “obstacles” to commercial trade. The difficulties appeared one after another, first in the form of the compulsory transfer of cargo at border crossings; excessive and often repetitive formalities; lack of efficient cargo, transport and crew services; informal or unregistered trade; delays lasting several days to obtain permission to bring goods into or through the country --all of which served to discourage intra-Andean trade.

The centrally-oriented development model in effect to one extent or another in all of our countries kept borders from receiving priority attention as part of development initiatives, making them, in practice, marginal areas in regions practically divorced form society and the economy in each country. For that reason, local actors reinforced their social, cultural and economic ties in an effort to benefit in any way from existing differences among national laws as to customs, monetary, tax, labor and other matters that are an everyday occurrence in these border areas.

The 1990s were particularly illustrative of the crises in border economies, not only for the reasons already described, but because of the appearance of other problems connected with the countries’ domestic security or the growing impact of globalization.

Andean integration, as a shared development strategy of the five countries, was not sufficiently deepened to find solutions to this crisis. Too much emphasis placed on finding solutions to the problem of international transportation at land border crossings resulted in a flood of proposed solutions “within the transportation sector,” reflecting a failure to understand that the solution to the border problem is not sectoral, but comprehensive, and related to all of the elements of the border situation.

For us, in an integration and development perspective, the border, more than a precise territorial cut along an imaginary line, is a process, an experience, characterized by the intense relationship and even the interdependence of the various expressions of social life among groups of people who live close to each other, but belong to two sovereign nations. In the context of this definition, the border is always a space for shared action characterized basically by the everyday nature of the relationship between social and economic actors.

As a result, the borders operate, in a practical sense, like another territory, a kind of “third country” where a common culture, age-old family bonds, real economic ties shared over the years are more important that the inflexibility of each State’s regulatory system and institutions, above and beyond the legitimate sovereign reach of each.

In an integration and development perspective, therefore, the border can only be understood with a binational outlook and its problems and potentials can be better addressed through the shared efforts of the bordering States, actively accompanied by Andean Integration, whenever its involvement is possible and to be desired.

Please allow me to offer you three dimensions of the importance of borders to our integration process.

In the first place, I consider borders important to Andean integration because in the end analysis our process is a strategy for jointly reaching integral and shared development targets. Article 1 of the Cartagena Agreement itself establishes its objective as being “…to promote the balanced and harmonious development of the Member Countries.” What balanced and harmonious development can we aspire to as an integration bloc unless we address, as a Community, the serious regional imbalances within our countries, where border regions tend to appear as net losers in the integration effort in comparison with others --usually interior industrialized regions-- that are the most active in intra-Community trade flows?

In the second place, borders are vital for strengthening the Andean Integration process because they are the true “hinges” in our intent to increase trade, tourist and service flows between our countries. The fact is, however, that what we have demanded from the border areas for the benefit of integration is far more than what we have done for them. We have asked them for a qualitative transformation, to stop acting as obstacles to trade, to reinforce the endowment of efficient services for trade and tourist flows that originate in and end up outside that area. The central and political levels, however, have failed to make available to them the necessary tools for fulfilling these requests.

In the third place, I consider it just as important to identify a role for the border areas that will involve their active participation in efforts to expand and diversify the exportable supply of Andean country goods and services in order to improve the terms of participation of the region as a whole in the global economy. In this necessary integration with the world, some development centers that link up the interior regions with our Pacific and Atlantic ports over common borders should permit the latter to be consolidated true “spaces for decentralized development”, a projection in which their privileged geographic position constitutes an obvious asset.

In is with this vision and in this perspective that the General Secretariat since 1999 has been promoting the enactment of a series of measures to recognize the importance of and the role these border areas should play within the Community integration process and providing them, from the vantage point of Andean Integration, with some useful instruments for achieving these aims. In May 1999, the Andean Foreign Ministers approved Decision 459 “Community Policy on Border Integration and Development,” which establishes its end purposes and objectives and creates basic institutions, represented by the Andean Council of Foreign Ministers, which directs that policy; the High-Level Working Group for Border Integration and Development, which coordinates and proposes to the Andean Council the necessary programs and actions plans; and the Andean Community General Secretariat, which fosters and oversees the execution of this policy.

The result of the efforts of the High-Level Group and of the Andean Council policy decision was the approval, in June 2001, of Decision 501 “Border Integration Zones (BIZ) in the Andean Community”, the key legal provision in the development of this process, in that it commits our countries to create, by country pairs, some territorial spheres consisting of segments of their common borders “…for which policies shall be adopted and plans, programs, and projects shall be executed jointly and coordinately to boost sustainable development and border integration for their mutual benefit in accordance with the characteristics of each of them,” as the first article of this Decision establishes.

Pursuant to this Decision, I have the pleasure, as part of this visit, to officially deliver to the Governments of Colombia and Venezuela a draft definition and delimitation of what would be the first Colombian-Venezuelan Border Integration Zone. This initiative has been prepared with technical and financial support from the Andean Community General Secretariat and the Offices of the Governors of Northern Santander and Táchira and the academic input and professional assistance of professors and researchers from three universities in this border area: the Universidad Francisco de Paula Santander and the Universidad Libre de Colombia – Seccional Cúcuta, for Colombia, and the Universidad de los Andes of Venezuela, through its Border and Integration Studies Center (CEFI-ULA).

In order for border integration to constitute, in a practical dimension, an instrument to support regional-border development and an important mechanism of Andean integration and of the bilateral relations among our countries, we must foster the creation of a promotional investment regime that will make it viable to formally create and operate border integration enterprises and to conceive and execute public projects of a binational border nature.

In this connection, the General Secretariat and the High-Level Working Group for Border Integration and Development have recently drawn up two draft Decisions known respectively as the “Uniform Regime on Multinational Andean Border Integration and Development Corporations (COMAF)” and “Public Border Integration and Development Projects” that we expect to see approved shortly.

The Cúcuta – San Cristóbal urban hub is a nodal point of the Andean Hub, part of that formidable hemispheric infrastructure project created by the South American Regional Infrastructure Integration Initiative (IIRSA), a basic program for the construction of the South American Community of Nations and its consolidation as a major strategy for decentralized development. This is the same border over which two-thirds of Colombian-Venezuelan trade is channeled and which, by the way, represents nearly one-half the total trade among the Andean Community countries. Thousands of citizens from the two countries move back and forth every day across the border to work in companies engaged in a wide range of economic activities, demonstrating the drive and importance of this “de facto” integration.

It should be recalled that the approval in August 1942 of the Colombian-Venezuelan Border Regime Bylaws perfected in 1959 by the Treaty of Tonchalá instituted a border regime in this region that constituted a pioneering model of such border regimes for the South American countries. It was for the implementation of this regime in the region that the Andean Parliament created the Border Region Assembly in March 1987 and it was here, in Northern Santander and in Táchira that intellectuals and the regional Academy began to propose in the 1980s the establishment of a Border Integration Zone regime as an instrument for promoting development with a shared vision.

We are convinced, because of this, that this border is not only a mirror in which all other borders in the Andean region can see themselves reflected, but that it should --for that same reason-- become an advanced laboratory of sorts in which, through the sum of the contributions and capacities of local actors, national and regional governments, integration bodies and financial and cooperating agencies, we can overcome all of the obstacles to integration and border development that are still present and consolidate its territorial competitiveness.

And when I say territorial competitiveness, I mean, in a broad sense, a situation in which this binational region prepares itself to cope with market competition while, at the same time, guaranteeing its environmental, economic, social and cultural viability. This calls for taking account of the resources of the territory in striving for global coherence; the active involvement of agents and institutions; the integration of the sectors of activity in a logic of knowledge and innovation; and cooperation with other regions in which the coordination of the region with the global context is the final aim.

The Andean Community General Secretariat is willing to offer its broadest assistance for this undertaking, which doubtlessly constitutes a huge challenge. I sincerely hope that the dialogues in which we will engage as of this moment will be directed basically toward consolidating these networks that will enable us to gradually approach this great goal that will not only be an accomplishment of Colombian-Venezuelan binational integration, but also one of the most important targets of Andean Integration.

Thank-you very much.