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From left to right, Néstor Kirchner (Argentina) and Hugo Chávez(Venezuela)

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” Da Silva echoed Chavez’s comments on the importance of MERCOSUR to the region. “MERCOSUR continues to be an engine for economic integration, ever more important for our countries,” he said yesterday.

And Chávez is already promoting a new vision for the agreement. “We need a MERCOSUR that prioritizes social concerns. We need a MERCOSUR that every day moves farther way from the old elitist corporate models of integration that look for…financial profits, but forget about workers, children, life, and human dignity,” he said.

MERCOSUR is a common marketed agreement created in 1991 between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Later, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela were admitted as associate members.

The agreement has yet to achieve the degree of regional integration originally envisioned by the group, in part because of disputes between member countries. However, according to analysts, it is currently South America’s best option for strengthening their negotiating position with the rest of the world. Were Venezuela to become a full member, the group would represent 70 percent of South America’s population.

But Venezuela’s admission as a full member is not yet a done deal. Before joining, Venezuela would need to agree to and abide by the group’s treaty, common external tariffs, and agreements with third parties, and commit to ongoing negotiations with the block. According to Nélson Fernández, Uruguay’s deputy director of Integration Affairs and MERCOSUR this is not a rapid process. “Uruguay expects that in a two or three-year term Venezuela will adopt the tariffs and disciplines set forth in Mercosur,” he told AFP.

Several Venezuelan groups have also voiced reservations to the country’s entry into the trade bloc. Gustavo Moreno, president of Venezuela’s farmers’ association, said that his group wanted a prior agreement on import duty barriers before Venezuela entered MERCOSUR.

The President of the cattle ranchers federation, Genaro Méndez, said that Venezuela should guarantee that when joining MERCOSUR it would not pull out of the price system of the Andean pact, which helps protect the ranching industry. Ranching and farming are among Venezuela’s most vulnerable sectors and would likely be unable to compete with Brazilian and Argentinean agriculture.

Despite the obstacles, members of MERCOSUR have been optimistic about Venezuela’s eventual entrance. “Venezuela will be made a full member of Mercosur. All that is left to decide are technical details,” said Argentine President Néstor Kirchner last month.