What do Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela have in common, apart from being members of the MERCOSUR? The fact that they are all countries where, as in Ecuador, there is significant public demand for greater integration with the world.
Thanks to the new alliance between the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL) and Latinobarómetro (link in Spanish), for the first time ever we can measure what Latin Americans think about the issues that are most sensitive in terms of public policy design: democracy, regional integration, living conditions, infrastructure, services, citizen security, and the environment, among others.
Fuente: INTAL/Latinobarómetro 2015
The first set of results from the Continuous Monitoring System for Regional Integration Processes in Latin America (SEPI) proved extremely interesting and, in some cases, rather unexpected. In over 20,000 surveys in 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the environment was that was most often voted a development priority.
However, when people were asked if they would be willing to pay 20% more for environmentally friendly products, only 9% said that they “strongly agreed.” As though one thing had nothing to do with the other and as though care for the environment did not depend, at the end of the day, on our responsibility as consumers and producers.
Cross-referencing objective and subjective data reveals that the countries where people are more inclined to pay to take care of the environment are those that produce the most pollution.
In other words, people are only prepared to pay to care for the environment when pollution becomes a problem in their daily lives.
What does integration represent for Latin Americans?
Some 66% of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean believe that regional integration has a positive effect on access to technology, 58% on exports, 55% on foreign investment, 52% on employment, and 48% on their own lives.
Source: INTAL/Latinobarómetro 2015
Furthermore, 69% of Latin Americans agree or strongly agree with their country being able to buy goods and services from any other country in the region and for any other country being able to sell goods and services in theirs.
Links with other nations are a higher priority for younger people and those with higher levels of education and greater subjective incomes. Likewise, countries with the highest most-favored-nation (MFN) tariffs and the lowest economic openness coefficients (exports+imports/GDP) believe more strongly that global integration should be a priority in the public agenda.
But not all the results were so rosy. Some 45% of people believe that regional integration has a negative impact on citizen security. Similarly, 45% disagree or strongly disagree with paying 20% more for products that respect workers’ rights in their own countries or abroad. It is clear that in terms of social integration, we citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean still have a long road ahead of us in our search for a shared identity.
This research from INTAL/Latinobarómetro (link in Spanish) shows very disparate results for each country. Despite this, agreement between objective trends and public perception allow us to outline a two-pronged course of action. On the one hand, we must take subjective needs into account when it comes to establishing priorities and objectives for integration strategies. On the other hand, we need to carefully evaluate whether the decisions made actually have the desired effect on people’s everyday perceptions.
By way of example, knowing that citizens are willing to pay to reduce pollution when levels are high, prevention policies could anticipate these demands and avoid unnecessary costs for the general public.
Future surveys will allow us to evaluate the effect of specific events, such as the signing of trade agreements or changes to environmental regulations, on the population’s subjective perceptions, in order to make integration a fundamental pillar not only of economic development but also of the population’s well-being.
In the coming days we will launch the 2016 surveys throughout the region. Starting in September, we will publish the preliminary results at the INTAL website. The new questionnaire, in addition to its regular contents, includes questions on what do we think about innovation and what does our “country brand” mean to the rest of the world. The challenge is exciting: obtain an ever-more detailed radiograph of Latin Americans opinions. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe and we will send you monthly updates.
INTAL-Latinobarómetro Partnership team contributed to this article.