“In an international system like the current one, everyone has power”
If we are talking about international politics, economy, and commerce, especially in Latin America, one of the biggest experts on the subject, both in theory and in practice, is Félix Peña, a great SABF friend.
His participations made us reflect on how the world around us is built and how are the threads of power moved. The clarity of his ideas and their real-world application help us understand that the world we live in is characterized by two facts, dynamism and speed.
From the Blog Team, we got in touch with him and his team to have a conversation that allowed us to better understand our reality. We focused on general questions in order to have a broad vision and allow Félix to develop his ideas.
Who is Félix Peña? Specialist in international economic relations, international trade law, and economic integration. Born in Rosario, Lawyer from the Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Santa Fe; Doctor of Law at the University of Madrid; Bachelor of European Law at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He is currently Director of the International Trade Institute of the ICBC Foundation; Professor and Director of the Master's Degree in International Commercial Relations and the Interdisciplinary Nucleus of International Studies of the Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (UNTREF); Professor in the Master of International Studies at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella; Counselor and member of the CARI Board of Directors, and member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. His experience is wide, he integrated the list of arbitrators for Argentina of the Mercosur dispute resolution mechanism - Protocolo de Olivos, of the ICSID and of the WTO; He was National Coordinator of the Common Market Group of Mercosur, besides being a consultant in different organisms such as IDB, World Bank; ALADI, Andean Community, CARICOM, CACM, UNCTAD, SELA, UNDP, UNIDO, IRELA, CELARE, SEGIB.
A true expert on the subject, Félix Peña.
Jonatán Carné: What is your reading on the current international system and how would you define it?
Félix Peña: I have the personal impression that the international system we are currently living is a very broad, very populated, with countries and consumers very empowered, that in some way are questioning a number of things that were always taken for granted. That’s where something almost thrilling appears, which is trying to understand and help to understand to the protagonist countries, people, companies, organizations, etc., how to move in a very complex and very dynamic international environment, which makes it difficult to predict.
JC: What are the dynamics of the current international system? Who are the decision makers and how can you devise a strategy of international insertion?
FP: I have the impression that in an international system like the current one everyone has power. The question is how much power you have and what for. Perhaps the key factor is to clearly understand two or three things: the first is the diagnosis of what is happening in your international surroundings, which is not the same for all countries, it depends where you are located. What you need to have clearly in your diagnosis is how the winds are moving, where are the power factors, in what way do you have what the world needs. What does it mean to have a good diagnosis? It is very simple, it is to be very clear about what you want, but, above all, about what you can do. Many times what you want, you just can not have, as simple as that.
Then the question appears, 'well, how can I move in this reality?' There comes an absolutely central theme, today more important than ever, not just a good diagnosis, but the idea of how to relate, how to move and with whom you associate. Depending on the diagnosis, what would be the like-minded countries. Countries with which you can develop mutual understanding.
This requires of course, of the third element, the articulation, the synergy in each country between public power, civil society’s power, entrepreneurial power, and academic power. The main feature of the current world is that there is no possibility for one or only a few countries to set the rules. There is no clarity about who are the “rule makers countries”. There is no possibility of knowing what number you put in the letter 'G': G20, G12, G7, G8, that is, who you invite to the decision tables. And once you think you've achieved the right way to do it, do not kid yourself, go to sleep and you will have to start again the next morning. I am aware that I am exaggerating, but it is only so that we do not deceive ourselves believing things are as they will always be.
JC: In some conferences and articles you have characterized the world we live in as a “multiplex world”. Do we continue to live in a multiplex and dynamic world?
FP: I really like the multiplex expression, because being the father of young kids, I remember when I went to shopping center, where multiple options existed, normally, I tried to go where things were more affordable, while the kids did not. There were different demands for different possibilities. Today’s world is multiplex, where everyone has multiple options, and multiple ways of being empowered. When you are aware that you are empowered, you exercise power. Like to a consumer on the shelves of a supermarket, you do not sell it anything, because it is much more informed and has multiple options, that is good news. The bad news is that there are constant changes, and when you have identified what product you want, you go to buy it a week later and you realize that this product has already become outdated, that there are new products that better fit the new realities. This happens continuously in the realm of international trade and power. There is complexity, dynamism, and the speed of the changes is characteristic of the international system we are living.
JC: What is the current role of Latin America and how is it handled in the international system?
FP: As Latin Americans, we need to be aware that we live in a neighborhood, Latin America. We are closer to what happens in other parts of the neighborhood than if we lived in Southeast Asia, or in Eurasia, or wherever. You are very determined by your neighborhood, regions are becoming increasingly important in the external environment of any country. The complexity lies in that it is not enough to understand the region, it is necessary to understand the world in which the region is immersed in. The neighborhood where you are inserted is what best empowers a strategy for world insertion.
Latin America becomes for any Latin American country, not the only priority, but a priority that conditions the possibility of living in peace. This takes you to recognize that Latin American reality has multiple diversities. The richness of Latin America is its diversity, so you need to practice the art of convergence to empower it. Based on the premise that our wealth is diversity, for many reasons. Geographical diversity, of resource distribution, but above all diversity product of the different places of the world from where we have come, including the strength of natives. Convergence is built with clear rules that protect the interests of a minority, if the rules are set by the big ones and they change them 'a piacere', they are affecting the interests of the smaller ones. Diversity is fostered by generating collective linkages between our countries, and guaranteeing to everyone that there will be rules guarded by specialists. That is, the guarantee that there will be an intermediate between powerful and not powerful, usually an institution that is above those countries but do not make the mistake of being something supranational, but a go-between, which facilitates the articulation of interests.
JC: Integration in Latin America is still in process, nowadays it seems like there were two different models, that of Mercosur and that of the Pacific Alliance. How do these types of integration affect the region?
FP: I think they are different ways of associating and responding to different realities. In Mercosur, the two largest countries are close together and share a lot of borders. The Pacific Alliance is a different case. Mexico is very detached from Latin America and very close to the United States, so that in some way its interests are convergent with those of the countries of the alliance, but they have a somewhat distant relationship. Chile, Colombia, and Peru, in terms of trade and trade integration, are more linked to Argentina and Brazil than to Mexico. When the data of the Alliance trade is taken and it adds more than that of Mercosur, it is because they are taking the data of the Mexican commerce with the United States.
There are divergences and there are multiple reasons why we should work together. I have the impression that at this moment both have an institutional framework that helps, that framework is ALADI, an instrument that is tailored to our needs. Integration means that the parties are transformed into a new whole in terms of the creation of a new autonomous unit of power, and that is where we are mistaken because that is not what it is about, but rather to create, step by step, spaces that allow for agreed interests. You have to be building, reviewing, reverting almost 24 hours a day, showing the dynamic characteristic of an integration strategy.
JC: In the case of Mercosur, how are these steps being taken? Is it an organism that lost its dynamism or is it still valid?
FP: We must continue to build Mercosur, it is a continuous construction process. Many times we academics made the mistake of considering that integration is processes that have final results that last forever. In this permanent construction, the key is that you take into account the interests of the multiple actors of each country, keeping in mind the decision making of where do you want to go and where can you go? Like what is happening to the UK, they made the decision to 'leave' and suddenly it's not so easy to leave. Or the debates of national states that we believed or understood were already consolidated, as in the case of Catalonia, in Spain. So, the key to everything is to get the idea of a dynamic world. Things are not forever.
JC: To conclude and changing the subject, what advice would you give to young people who are just beginning the path of university education or work training?
FP: I would say that the main advice is to have a lot of curiosity, a lot of love for your job, a lot of trying to understand and a lot of trying to help understand. It implies a lot of modesty, that in the best scenario you will realize regularly that you thought you understood and you do not understand. And that takes you to another thing that is fundamental, a lot of teamwork. You have to articulate with people either from your time at university or at work, to share, to discuss, to dialogue, to exchange visions with other people, as far as possible, of different colors, different ideologies, different motivations on how we move in the world.