Shortly after President Mauricio Macri took office, there was lots of hubub when he decided to travel to on commercial airliners. Who can forget all the selfies? Seems practicality has taken over. Macri is set to travel to China today, with a convenient stopover in Qatar, for the G-20 summit (which will be held on September 4-5) and will be doing the whole thing via private jet alongside First Lady Juliana Awada. The highlights of the trip include a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Thursday.
Let’s take a look at what’s going on.
Leaving On A [Private] Jet Plane
Macri will be traveling the long distance to Qatar and China on a private jet (a Gulf Stream 650) belonging to the businessman Eduardo Eurnekian, one of the richest Argentine executives who leads Corporación América. The cost of renting the plane is US$617,000 (around AR$9 million) without taking into account fuel or the pilots, according to Big Bang News.
Argentina’s presidential air fleet is in very bad shape at the moment, with both Tango 01 and Tango 02 (the presidential airplanes) grounded due to technical issues. In addition, government sources for La Nación justified the move saying that “no commercial airline flies that route.”
Most of the committee that will be accompanying Macri in China will, however, be flying commercial.
Macri’s first stop will be to Qatar, to visit Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir. Sheikh Tamim visited Argentina in late July, when he met with Macri at the presdiential residence in Olivos. Qatar is one of the biggest suppliers of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Argentina and it has expressed interest in boosting energy investments in the country.
There are few details about the agenda for the sit-down with the emir, but it will be an intimate meeting. Macri will only be accompanied by Strategic Affairs Secretary Fulvio Pompeo, the Presidential spokesperson Iván Pavlovsky and the Presidential Advisor for Foreign Investment, Horacio Reyser (in addition to his wife, Awada). Odds are they’re likely to do more than play chess or go quad biking.
The visits with Chinese leaders on the sidelines of the G20 Summit will mark yet another confirmation that Macri is set to continue strong relations with China that were solidified under his predecessor, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. During Fernández’s administration Argentina forged closer ties with China, signing a plethora of agreements and deals. However, the relationship was not free of controversy and several big projects, including a much-heralded hydroelectric dam in Santa Cruz province, have been plagued by controversy.
With two meeting in five months and billions of dollars in investment, it would seem that we can safely say the government’s objective of bringing investment into the country has surpassed any possible political controversy. This year alone, China has loaned Argentina US$25 billion dollars while all direct foreign investment in Argentina for 2015 totalled US$11.6 billion, according to La Nación. China, with its massive population, benefits from Argentina’s agricultural business, but there was a bilateral trade deficit of US$5 billion in 2015.
The meeting with Chinese leaders will not be all about investment: another objective is to discuss visas for citizens from both countries.
We’ll see if Macri comes back from what will be one of the longest trips of his presidency with anything worse than jet lag next week.