The Hon. Melitón Alejandro Arrocha (Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panamá)

14.09.2010 - Interview conducted by James Hood

Q1: Your Excellency, thank you so much for coming to the ICD to come and speak to us. In your talk you discussed Agreement of Association between the European Union and Central America. What, if any, were there any major points of disagreement, and from the Central American perspective, what were the main gains as well as disappointments of the agreement?

The main gains were to have the opportunity to re-launch the relationship with Europe on a single frame work, and that’s the association between Central America and the European Union to consolidate cooperation and by which the European Union offers unilateral concessions of trade-basis having the possibility of avoiding the unilaterally by Europe and therefore being able to use that instrument as a promotion of investment by Europe to Central America. It also has a mechanism that offers the legal framework for any dispute that might arise out of any commercial relationship within the region that will also allow potential investors to feel more comfortable putting their capital to work Central America. So I think the potential of increasing not only the volume of trade but the flows of investment between Central America and Europe are maximized with the signing of the agreement. It will also allow for better opportunities to have a more focused integration with Central America particularly in the areas of commerce and the perfection of the common market in the Central American Union. As for misgivings I cannot tell you any; the process of my decision was very hard one. It required a lot of patience and at some point the possibility of understanding each other in a way probably without the interaction with Europe would have been impossible. I think we came out stronger than when we went in.

Q2: In terms of international cooperation, this is one of the first treaties between regions as a whole. Can you tell me what advantages such an inter-regional agreement has over the more common bi-lateral or multi-lateral agreements?

Well, the bi-regional approach allows not only to have a comprehensive approach on commercial issues that I will refer to in a few seconds but also encompasses a fruitful discussion of topics on the political aspect of the relationship of two regions and also on the corporations aspects as you know central America has a longstanding tradition with the European Union and certainly a good way to boost the relationship between both parties in the corporation. The political structure will allow checks and balances to be put not only on both regions to each other but also putting forward a common set of values that we both share, being able for one union to overview the other in regards to the complete fulfillment of this.

So in regards to trade and this is a very difficult question to answer but I will present two issues. The possibility to having a well-known set of rules in regards to rules of origin and the possibility of accommodation which means the agreement will allow for the countries that are part of the agreement to use some by-products that are going to be part of the final product and not losing the origin and allow the product to get into the European market under the framework of the agreement therefore receiving the tariff benefits that the agreement has. So I see many benefits in the integration process of Central America by way of signing the agreement.

Q3: Considering efforts to integrate Central American countries, how might they benefit from the European example, firstly in its political and economic integration but also socially and cultural integration?

I think that you cannot discard the European model, even though there has been quite a discussion on that as we speak within the European Union. I strongly believe the better way to go forward in regards to a grouping of people, or grouping of countries, is integration. I will say that is a good example to use as a reference probably there’s not such a thing as one size fits all and most probably the experience of Europe resembles the identity and values of Europe and we are taking it into consideration in whatever we do in Central America in regards to integration. We understand that our situations require decisions that will only fit ourselves but of course we will take into account all the good experiences of other countries or other groups of countries in the past.

Q4: Issues of security, democracy and human right are issues of common concern for Europe and also for Latin America. How the EU might be able to support Central America’s efforts in overcoming some of these crucial issues?

Well, I think that first of all it is just a fact of having a discussion and agreeing on certain concepts in regards of transparency, rule of law, the preservation of human rights, the institution of democracy is very important in and of itself. The agreement also establishes a possibility that if one country does not follow the rules that are embedded in the agreement then the suspension of some of the benefits of the agreement might be in place for the country that is not fully complying with the terms and conditions of the agreement. So I think that the agreement into itself establishes another set of checks and balances within the system and will allow us to have a stronger preservation of core values that are currently shared by all the countries in this strategic association between Europe and Central America. So we feel very happy. We understand that of course that this will require a higher commitment on behalf of everyone, but we are looking forward to the full implementation of the agreement.

Q5: As we are in the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, how you would characterize the potential of Cultural Diplomacy to help with integration within the Central American region?

Well, it is very important as you know you cannot avoid cultural differences. You must take them into account. They might be subtle but they are there. If you don’t take them into account something that might be very clear to you might take you in a different direction. So just to be able to study to understand the similarities and the differences in regards to the cultural approach on different topics that are very difficult is of key importance. So I think that I can only commend that the work the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy is doing and I hope you get more people aware of the situation since we are moving very fast into a world that is exchanging ideas, criteria, by modern methods of communications in a very fast manner. So just bear in mind that cultural similarities and cultural differences are very important in the diplomatic world.

Thank you very much.