EAFIT University's video conference webcast featuring Colombia's national launch of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Report 2007, linked hundreds of students and professors with Geneva experts to discuss the advantages of a regional approach to trade for Latin American countries.
The video conference, organized by UNCTAD, the Virtual Institute and EAFIT's Vi member coordinator, Sascha Furst, filled an auditorium in Medellín, and counted with 95 viewers from Vi Affiliate member, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Bogotá. In Geneva, representatives from UNCTAD and Colombia's Permanent mission led the presentation and were at hand to answer questions from students.
In his presentation of the report, Alfredo Calcagno, from UNCTAD's Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, explained that the report did not only deal with regional developments in terms of trade, but also in terms of monetary integration and other issues like infrastructure and energy.
He further made distinctions between South-South and North-South trade integration schemes, saying that while it would be advisable for developing countries to pursue the first type of initiative, they should be more cautious with the second one. Too often North-South agreements impose restrictions on developing countries' policy space through conditions that go beyond trade issues, such as environment and labor standards, such as those being incorporated in free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by the United States with a number of developing countries, including Colombia.
In his summary, Calcagno provided the students with examples specific to Central and Latin America. Among other things, he highlighted:
* the findings of a case study on the development impact of NAFTA on Mexico
* the developments in intra-regional trade composition and volumes over the past decade
* the potential for stronger regional financial cooperation, based for example, on the Mercosur Structural Convergence Fund or the Andean System for Credit Guarantee
* the new developments in regional infrastructure and energy cooperation. For example the Plan Puebla-Panamá or Petroamérica initiative
The presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session. Students were concerned about the consequences of the reciprocity principle in new North-South Free Trade Agreements. They also inquired about the role of regional integration for the achievement of a broader set of development objectives, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. Students also asked how the recommendation for stronger South-South regional integration can be reconciled with the multilateral trading system.
Feedback received by EAFIT reflect the success of the videoconference, which also attracted interest from the press.
"I am very happy with the outcome," wrote Patricia Almeida, of UNCTAD's Intergovernmental Affairs and Outreach Service, who organized the conference in Geneva . "You have fully met our expectations of the event."
Vlasta Macku, Chief of the Virtual Institute agreed. "The conference was really great -- extremely well prepared on your side -- congratulations and thanks to you, the Dean and of course, the students."
"The kids have sent me many e-mails, appreciating that this opportunity has been given to them, and asking that this type of events be organized more frequently in the future," wrote EAFIT Professor Luis Fernando Vargas ALzate. "They really are very satisfied with their participation in the event."
Martha Lucía Morales, of Vi Affiliate member Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, reported that in Bogotá, three department administrators, including the Dean, 12 professors and approximately 80 students attended the live webcast. "We are interested in continuing to participate in the activities promoted by the Virtual Institute and other activities of mutual interest for our institutions."