JORGE SAHD K. Director Center for International Studies UC
The public statement by former center-left foreign ministers on the negative effect of reviewing trade and investment treaties, puts back into the debate whether “revisionism” is a good idea or not for our foreign policy. The debate is not about a right or left issue – the signatories are part of the opposition to the current government – but about good or bad public policies.
Why is the “revisionism” of FTAs and investment agreements bad public policy? First, because the approach made in Chile has been unilateral. In a hyper-integrated world, unilateralism is a bad advisor in foreign policy, even more so for medium-sized countries that depend on the world, like ours. “We will review and reevaluate the current free trade agreements signed by Chile, in order to recognize, reconcile or modify those norms that prevent or make it difficult for our country to become part of Mercosur and other integration processes in Latin America,” said candidate Sánchez in 2018.
Does it then mean that Chile should sit idly by before any idea of change? No way. But any review of a country that aspires to be integrated must be carried out in a negotiated manner, in bilateral and multilateral dialogue. For a reason, there are management committees to review the implementation of treaties or the modernization of agreements, as in the case of China, the United Kingdom or the European Union.
Second, “revisionism” is bad policy because it starts from a wrong diagnosis and uses premises that are not true. The wrong diagnosis, as the statement of the former foreign ministers says, is to assume that these agreements have been “offensive impositions of the rest of the world.” The data show the opposite: in economic matters, trade has come to represent 60% of the product, it has helped to promote the development of important Chilean industries, such as wine, salmon and, increasingly, services. The “revisionist” approach is not aligned with the needs of Chilean exporters, who ask for more openness and support in new markets, not condition their access.
The premise of revisionism is also wrong. It is accused that international treaties limit Chilean sovereignty to such an extent that they restrict the ability of countries to define their own public policies. Nothing could be further from reality, as has been shown by the proliferation of fake news and demonizations around TPP11. No country that signed this agreement has been prevented from carrying out reforms, as has happened with New Zealand, Canada, Australia or Mexico. The current trend, in fact, is to make explicit in the agreements the power of the States to define their own policies.
Finally, there is a very valuable intangible: reputation. Chile has built a solid image as a serious, stable country that honors its international commitments. Earning this reputation took decades; losing it could be quick if the country comes to be perceived as unpredictable in its international agreements.
Revisionism is not the way. The way is to continue diversifying our international insertion, looking for unexplored markets and continuing to “level the playing field” so that more companies embrace internationalization. To protect the national interest, Chile must continue to honor its commitments. A revisionist attitude may mean putting the pedal to the metal, but in reverse.