Trade interregionalism in the South Atlantic

Date - 20 / 04 / 2018

Trade interregionalism in the South Atlantic

Trade interregionalism in the South Atlantic
Frank Mattheis (Université Libre de Bruxelles and University of Pretoria)


In the Atlantic basin, the external relations of regional organisations follow two main patterns. The first one is to engage within the immediate neighbourhood with adjacent or overlapping regional organisations. The second on is the engage with regional organisations that have a distinct element of autonomy, chiefly the European Union (EU) with who all the main regional organisations in the Atlantic have established formal links. South Atlantic interregionalism is a less prominent phenomenon giving the limited capacity and mandate of regional institutions, the absence of interregional development aid flows between the two regions and the lack of economic complementarities. Consequently, this type of interregionalism warrants particular interest when it emerges (Lidsegård and Mattheis 2018). This chapter examines the first interregional trade agreement in the South Atlantic, namely between the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and the South African Customs Union (SACU).


The first section deals with the historic background for the emergence of interregionalism across the South Atlantic. After that, the three involved regionalisms, Mercosur, SACU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are analysed with respect to the interregional capacity and compared. In order to understand the specificity of the prevalent notion of interregionalism, a typology proposed by Gardini and Malamud (2018) based on Hurrell (1995) and Hänggi, Roloff and Rüland (2006) will categorise the form and function of interregionalism in an Atlantic space that is usually dominated by European external relations (Baert, Scaramagli and Söderbaum 2014). It proposes a distinction between five forms of interregionalism: pure interregionalism between regional groupings, transregionalism driven by individual member states, hybrid or quasi interregionalism between a regional power and a regional grouping, overlapping interregionalism between regional groupings within the same region, and stealth interregionalism with its imperial connotation. The last two forms of interregionalism are largely absent from South Atlantic relations due to the lack of overlaps and imperial links. Transregionalism does exist – for instance in the form of ocean-based cooperation – but does not directly relate to existing regionalisms (Mattheis 2018). Although a direct relationship between interregionalism and regional actorness has been established (Mattheis and Wunderlich 2017) there is still relatively little knowledge about the extent of the reciprocal impact between regionalism and interregionalism.


Subsequently, this chapter will concentrate on the establishment of interregionalism between the three organisations Mercosur, SADC and SACU as an oscillation between hybrid and pure forms of interregionalism before concluding with remarks on the position within the Atlantic basin and the role of summitry.



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