MERCOSUR is a regional bloc of countries in South America that was set up to form a common market and eliminate trade barriers between its member states. Amongst other ways, it uses legal approximation to achieve these goals. Food legislation harmonization is an important part of the process, and it is an obligation for all MERCOSUR member states.
In 1991, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay signed the “Treaty of Asunción” to create the “Mercado Común del Sur” (The Common Market of the South), better known as MERCOSUR. The treaty sets up the framework of MERCOSUR and outlines the parties’ goal to become a common market through the adoption of a common external tariff, a common trade policy, and the “free movement of goods, services, and factors of production between countries through the elimination of customs duties and non-tariff restrictions on the movement of goods.”
Currently, the MERCOSUR is composed of six member states: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela (2006) and Bolivia (2015). The binding force of MERCOSUR acts generates for Member States duty to incorporate provisions into their National Legislation Systems and as well as obligation to refrain from adopting acts that could obstruct the effectiveness of MERCOSUR acts. The duty to incorporate derives from the intergovernmental nature of MERCOSUR decision-making bodies, which approximate the legal instruments to national regulations.
Harmonization of Food Legislation in Mercosur
The harmonization process of the regulatory framework is a key mean to fulfillment of the Treaty of Asunción by the Sectorial Mercosur Committees, enabling free trade within the MERCOSUR territory. For the specific case of food and beverages, the harmonization has been developed by the Technical Standards Committee (SGT-III), through the Food and Metrology Legal Committee.
The SWG-III promotes quarterly meetings of standardization in the following areas:
- Information procedures between countries regarding technical standards and regulations;
- Voluntary technical standards;
- Acceptance of the values and tolerances in the contents of premeasured industrial products;
- Net content of packaged products and their tolerances;
- Food ingredients and additives;
- Food registration;
- Trade name, identity and quality patterns;
- Labeling of nutrients, dietary foods, foods for special regimes or medicinal use;
- Microbiological and microscopic patterns:
- Containers and materials in contact with food:
- Contaminants and drinks
In 1994, the Common Market Council adopted seven decisions and the Common Market Group 91 resolutions in the area of food (Compendium MERCOSUL, 1995). These decisions and resolutions constitute the food legal framework developed so far for the four states of MERCOSUR.
In the last past years, more Acts on food have been released by MERCOSUR, some have repealed the core resolutions and some others have amended them. MERCOSUR rules establish full integration of Food Acts into each National Member Legislation.
It is up to each Mercosur Member its compliance with the agreements of the Asuncion Treaty, to incorporate in their national legislation these resolutions, promote its equivalent application, and continue the efforts for the harmonization and upgrading, actions with permanent nature.
The process of harmonization of food standards followed within the MERCOSUR has required its negotiators from both the public and private sectors, to demonstrate an intense professional effort and willingness to reach compromise. This also needs to be supported by a clear political decision to sign proposed standards on behalf of member state governments. The standardization process is largely facilitated by the fact that some of the countries have already participated in similar processes of adoption of standards, norms and procedures, as recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Mercosur Member States
The requirements to become a MERCOSUR member state are:
1) To be a member of ALADI (Latin-American Association of Integration) and
2) Follow the adhesion process provided in the internal rules of Mercosur.
Once a state has become a member state of MERCOSUR, it should implement the necessary measures to integrate the MERCOURS acts into its National Legislation System and communicate the process to the MERCOSUR Secretariat, who communicates this to each member state. Once the process of integration is communicated and approved, the MERCOSUR acts can take place into the National Legislation, being published in the National Official Gazette with a specific entry into force date.
MERCOSUR currently has four associated states: Chile, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, which are ALADI members and have trade agreements with MERCOSUR. The associated states are allowed to join the MERCOSUR meetings treating themes of common interest having only a passive activity and no vote within the association.
MERCOSUR can have other associated states, with who has different economic agreements in compliance with the Montevideo Treaty 1980 (TM80), this is the case of Guyana and Surinam.
On December 17th, 1994, with the Ouro Preto Protocol, the MERCOSUR began a new stage in which it will tend to consolidate the Customs Union. Currently the Ouro Preto Protocol, is a key reference point for the regulation of intra and extra-Mercosur relations in their legal and economic aspects and for the definition of its institutional structure.
The main functional members of Mercosur are:
- The Common Market Council, the supreme organ of Mercosur, responsible for the political management of the process of integration and the achievement of the goals of the Treaty of Asuncion on time. It is composed of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Economy (or equivalent) of the member states.
- The Common Market Group is the executive body, it operationalizes resolutions and decisions of the Council. It also ensures the application of the Treaty of Asuncion and its protocols, proposes concrete actions to coordinate macroeconomic policies and to begin negotiations with countries wishing to become members, and approves the budget proposed by the administrative secretary. It is composed of four permanent members and four alternates for each member state representing foreign ministers, economy and the central banks.
- The working subgroups under the direct control of the Group, they draft decisions, which are then submitted to the Board; they also compile studies and opinions on:
- trade and customs issues,
- technical standards,
- monetary and fiscal policies connected with trade,
- land transport,
- industrial and technology policies,
- employment and
- social security.
- The Joint Parliamentary Commission is the representative body of Parliaments of individual member states. It has both consultative nature and has the task of organizing the harmonization of individual national legislations.
- The Trade Commission is a technical body, composed of four permanent members and four alternates for each country; it provides the tools for the adoption of a common trade policy.
- Economic and Social Advisory Forum is a consultative body consisting of four national delegations representing the interests of the private sector, with the participation of employers, trade unions, professional bodies and consumer associations. It represents the social and economic sector.
The Customs Union constitution and the legal personality of international law consecrated by the Ouro Preto Protocol gives to the Mercosur the ability to negotiate agreements with third countries, with economic blocs and international organizations.
The joint action of the member states in international forums, aims to meet the need for a common commercial policy; in those areas where this is not possible. It tends to maintain the principles established by the Asunción Treaty.
Currently Mercosur has agreements with the following International Institutions:
- WTO (World Trade Organization).
- ALADI (Free Association of Commerce).
- European Union.
- NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement).
For further information: MERCOSUR.