This week the Pacific Alliance Council of Ministers announced the approval of the guidelines for states to become associates of the PA. The move is a response to the persistent interest that some of the observer states have in the mechanism and a push to move forward with economic and political relations with those observer states of ‘higher interest’.
The brief guidelines outline the requirement that, to become an associate state, the candidate should conclude a mandatory economic and commercial agreement with the four PA members that follows ‘high standards‘. Although the guidelines are rather vague as to what constitutes a high standard agreement it seems to refer to the disciplines that shall be covered, including trade in goods, services and investment. It is also an underlying requirement that the agreement encourages openness and market integration along with its alignment with the general objectives of the PA.
The guidelines stress that negotiations will be concluded by all the states parties to the PA acting as one party and the requesting state as the other party. This suggests that PA members should reach a common agreement as one party rather than acting as individual parties undertaking multiple bilateral negotiations in a common forum. This approach will really test the ability of the members to act collectively when sensitive issues for individual members arise. Moreover, it will trial their willingness to think of the PA as a whole.
Who would be a likely associate state of the PA? Perhaps Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Although Canada has evidenced high interest in the evolution of Pacific Alliance it is not clear to what extent the re-negotiation of NAFTA would influence its impetus to negotiate with the group of PA members as a whole. Moreover, Canada already has FTAs in place with Colombia (2011), Chile (1997) and Peru (2009) while it deals with Mexico in the context of NAFTA. What disciplines would add value to the already existing bilateral FTAs? Would CETA or the TPP become the new template for these bilateral agreements to be updated? what other rights and obligations will come with the associate status? Would it be a stage planting the seeds for future full membership?
Furthermore, three more countries joined the Pacific Alliance as observer states: Slovenia, Lithuania and Croatia. The mechanism has as of today 52 observer states.