Opening borders

The impact of free movement of people between Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Last August, the members of the Andean Community (“CAN”) took an important step towards regional integration: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru approved a freedom of movement statute, known as ‘Decisión 878’.

The decision will also offer greater agility for business as it opens the door for a market of 111 million people with freedom of circulation as tourists for three to six months. The Andean Migratory statute also makes it easier to apply for residency, something that is hoped will increase job opportunities across the countries involved. Applicants will need to demonstrate that they can financially support themselves.

A director of foreign trade in the Colombian government commented, “Greater border integration in Latin America has been discussed and analysed for a long time but this recent action was catalysed as an economic reactivation tool following the pandemic. From a Colombian perspective, the CAN border is complex and small, basically only with Ecuador because of the barrier that the Amazon represents in relation to the Colombia-Peru border.”

“Greater border integration in Latin America has been discussed and analysed for a long time but this recent action was catalysed as an economic reactivation tool following the pandemic.”

Director, foreign trade, Colombia

A senior tourism industry executive in Colombia celebrated the statute, “The WTO has said that the pandemic-related losses for the tourism industry are 10 times higher than those suffered during the 2009 financial crisis, and that the arrival of foreign tourists to South American countries has dropped by 86%.”

A similar source in Peru had the polar opposite view, “This statute comes at a bad time, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, making border crossing easier doesn’t seem like a good idea. Also, because of the Venezuelan crisis, there are 1 million Venezuelans in Peru and 2 million in Colombia, this is not good for immigration, there is a lack of control. Inevitably, with open borders, all the criminal gangs, human traffickers and drug traffickers will sneak in, but I guess they do it already.”

“This statute comes at a bad time, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, making border crossing easier doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Tourism industry executive, Peru

In times of economic hardship, treaties of this nature can reduce unemployment, increasing the supply of workers. Furthermore, it reduces irregular migration, bringing down the costs associated of managing illegal migrants. In contrast, the measure poses a number of challenges as granting equal rights in labour conditions throughout the countries and securing minimum academic standards among them can prove difficult for poorer members. The main focus of the new statute has been on regulation of the employment market, with little mention of crime and security-related threats.”

There are other challenges as the Colombian director explained, “In addition to the security risk related to drug trafficking, it’s also important to note that population density near the border is not very high and the roads are in poor condition.”

CAN countries see the Decisión 878 as a step towards stronger intraregional cooperation, in a similar fashion to Mercosur, the only multilateral immigration-specific agreement in Latin America to date. Member states will also benefit from more stable market conditions, balancing wages in specific industry markets, also boosting confidence among businesses and investors. The attractiveness of Colombia and Peru as investment destinations will likely have spill-over effects on Bolivia and Ecuador. Labour intensive industries such as tourism, oil and gas and agribusiness are expected to benefit the most from this measure.

The Colombian government representative confirmed, “We are looking to harmonise all kinds of things including: labour, telecommunications and environmental initiatives.”

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