President Barack Obama’s last year in office in the United States, which coincided with Mauricio Macri’s first one in Argentina, was marked by the shared need to restore a bilateral agenda that had deteriorated under the Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations. This mutual necessity to restore a previously-damaged climate of cooperation laid the foundations for better relations between the two countries. The natural empathy seen in the personal relationship between Obama and Macri also had a part to play in this, although its impact on foreign policy is something analysts do not always take into account. The Argentine president will count on the vital support of the White House in the resolution of the conflict with the holdouts as the first step to the exit of the default and the reintegration of the country into the international credit system to have external financing. In December 2016, the Obama administration authorized the re-entry of Argentine lemons into the US market, which had been banned since 2001 for health reasons. In turn, President Macri, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and the various spokespersons for the Argentine government have shown their willingness to build spaces for cooperation on issues of common interest. These include Argentina’s willingness to take in Syrian refugees, a gesture that has had a positive impact on the White House.
By contrast, the Republican administration of Donald Trump, in full harmony with the protectionist stance adopted during the presidential campaign, decided within a few days of his inauguration to reinstate the suspension of the importation of Argentine lemons. According to the Macri government, the Trump administration only temporarily stopped the agreements, signed during the Obama administration, allowing the exportation of Argentine meat and lemons to the US, but will respect them. Beyond the declarations, it is clear that Trump’s arrival to the presidency has initiated a new stage of uncertainty in the ambivalent Argentine-US relations. This climate of uncertainty may adversely affect the emerging spaces of bilateral cooperation on issues of common interest built during the last year of Obama’s presidency: attracting US investments to the Argentine market, Argentine cooperation with United States on the issue of Syrian refugees, trade agreements between Argentina and the United States, etc. The lemon and meat embargo confirms once again the structurally conflictive nature of the commercial element of the bilateral agenda, conditioned by the competitive and non-complementary bias of both countries economies, especially in the commodities sector.
For the Macri government, it is time to recalculate and adopt policy tools that are the closest to maintaining the budding cooperative relationship it started with the Obama administration. In doing so, they could attract US-based investments and open the U.S market to Argentine exports. By the way, this latter goal may conflict with the protectionism promoted by Trump’s government. In this recalculation exercise, however, the Argentine government should take care to retain degrees of freedom of international maneuver, and prevent the country from becoming too dependent on a single external actor. To do so, they should follow the old recipe for success reccommended by Juan Bautista Alberdi: diversify placement markets for Argentine exports and sources of investment for the program of economic modernization driven by macrista management.
To borrow from the title of a Beatles song, the Argentine-American relationship is a ”long and winding road.” The Macri government must have both flexibility and tenacity in order to continue down the road; to face the obstacles arising from Trump’s protectionist policies and their consequences for the United States and the rest of the world; and to deal with political and social actors within Argentina who are reluctant to build spaces of collaboration with the United States.