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Mesoamerica Advances

The regional integration initiative known as Proyecto Mesoamérica is gaining momentum. It was a central item on the agenda of the XI Cumbre de Tuxla (an annual summit of regional heads of state), which concluded in Costa Rica today. Last week news reports focused on a proposed multimodal transportation strategy to improve the region’s competitiveness. And last June, the IDB announced the second phase of a project known as Tránsito Internacional de Mercancía, which will introduce a unified customs system for use on the borders of all Mesoamerican countries.

The initiative began to speed up in 2007, when it was created as a successor to the Plan Puebla-Panamá and expanded to include nine member countries (Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama). The idea is  to focus on regional integration in the areas of transport, energy, communications, health and prevention of natural disasters.

One of the key initiatives of Proyecto Mesoamérica is upgrading the Pacific Corridor, a 3,200-kilometerhighway that runs from Panama to the city of Puebla in Mexico and is the region’s main logistic and transportation link for integration and trade. Plans to widen and improve the highway, along with signage and infrastructure at border points along the Pacific Corridor, will require investments of at least $1 billion. The project will also include measures to increase security and reduce transit times along the corridor and to bolster the customs integration system that is being financed by the IDB.

The Pacific Corridor is part of the International Network of Mesoamerican Highways, which consists of more than 12,600 kilometers of roads that cross one or more borders from Central Mexico to Panama.

Another crucial component of Proyecto Mesoamérica is the Electric Interconnection System for Central American Countries (known as SIEPAC, for its initials in Spanish), an 1,800-kilometer network of transmission lines that stretches from Colombia to Mexico and is nearing completion. The IDB financed 90 percent of SIEPAC, which will begin to operate in the first quarter of 2010. The remainder was financed by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Government of Spain.