In June, 2017, the Pacific Alliance—the Latin American free trade bloc composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru—announced a new option for outside states to become Associate Members.
The Associate Member status is one step above the current Observer Member status, and requires joining countries to commit to a free trade agreement with the Pacific Alliance members. The trade bloc has most recently accepted the countries of Canada, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand as Associate Members. Notably, Costa Rica and Panama are in negotiations to become Full Members.
Becoming an Associate Member requires full negotiations between all members of the Pacific Alliance and the membership-seeking country. Associate Membership status is easier to obtain than is Full Member status, which requires a country to have existing trade deals with at least half of the Pacific Alliance’s full members. This registration process reflects the Pacific Alliance’s desire to expand its membership.
This new member status is in line with the Pacific Alliance’s goal of liberalizing trade. Representatives for the Pacific Alliance have expressed optimism that the member category will lead to new free trade markets. Additionally, the Pacific Alliance has set a goal of having 90% of merchandise trade fall under a free trade agreement by 2030, which would require a dramatic increase in trade deals. It may be likely that the Pacific Alliance will see an increase in Observer Member countries seeking to become Associate Members.
The creation of the new membership category also represents a response to the recent political-economic backlash against globalization, open economies, and free trade, exemplified by events like Brexit and the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (TPP). Nonetheless, in an effort to continue working toward reducing barriers to trade, the eleven remaining TPP members met with the Pacific Alliance. The meeting presents the possibility of future trade deals between the Pacific Alliance, its Associate Members, and the members of the TPP. The Pacific Alliance also continually seeks to cooperate with MERCOSUR, another regional trade bloc composed of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.