US vice-president Mike Pence praised President Mauricio Macri’s economic reforms and identified Argentina as a key Latin American partner in economic development and international security during his visit to Buenos Aires this week.
Pence delivered a message of unity between the United States and Argentina, explaining his view that “America first does not mean America alone.”
Pence and Macri met at the Quinta de Olivos presidential residence before participating in a joint press conference.
According to the White House’s readout of the meeting, the leaders discussed bilateral trade ties, including a resolution of “key agricultural priorities.” The Trump administration’s cancellation of a lemon import agreement and the US International Trade Commission’s new investigation into alleged Argentine dumping of soy oil increased tensions before Pence’s visit. Nevertheless, relations appear to be warming; in addition to the appearance of friendship between Pence and Macri, La Nación reported that President Trump congratulated President Macri on the results of the PASO primaries last Sunday. The leaders also committed to cooperate on counternarcotics, anti-corruption, and counter-terrorism.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) August 16, 2017
However, the leaders’ most prominent topic remained economic reform and development. “We believe that Argentina’s turn toward free market principles – re-entering global capital markets and bringing about the kind of reforms that President Macri is advancing – will support jobs and opportunities in the United States, and it will invite more foreign direct investment from our country here,” Pence said.
Macri reciprocated and expressed his gratitude to Pence for his visit and partnership with the United States.”We have many opportunities to deepen this relationship, and we hope that it will bring prosperity, employment and development for our country,” he said. Macri also affirmed the importance of increasing employment to tackle poverty (Argentina’s poverty rate stands at 30.3 percent according to INDEC), and described his interest in kick-starting economic development in the region.
During Pence’s speech at the old Buenos Aires stock market building – a symbolic ideological statement in itself of the importance of free markets – the vice president spoke to a group of US and Argentine business leaders on the prospects for regional growth. “When Latin America embraces economic reforms, Latin America succeeds and so does the United States,” Pence said. In an effort to catalyze this success, Pence traveled with a number of US business leaders to develop new relationships between the two countries.
The US is Argentina’s third largest trading partner after Brazil and China. According to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce, Argentine exports to the US in the first half of 2017 totaled US $2.5 billion, an 11 percent increase above the same period last year.
President Macri struck a balance between acknowledging the Trump administration’s desire for bilateral ties and agreements, while also applying American leverage to strengthen Argentina’s position in multilateral forums.
“We hope that this December, in the meeting of the World Trade Organization, we will find points which deepen this potential, regardless of the fact that in this moment the United States is not very attracted to multilateral relations like bilateral relations,” Macri said. Pence described the United States’ commitment to helping Argentina join the OECD and praised its leadership in other international institutions.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) August 15, 2017
The meeting seemed to herald a pivot in US policy toward Latin America. In Pence’s trip thus far, the leader and country with which he identified most has been Macri and Argentina. Pence noted that he was “proud to partner with Argentina” and told Macri that his leadership has helped Argentina emerge “as an advocate for these values and as a symbol of the productive future that Latin America is building for itself.” In short, as Martín Dinatale of Infobae argued, the United States effectively has chosen Argentina as its interlocutor in Latin America.
Accordingly, the White House said that Pence “reiterated President Trump’s commitment to work with regional and global partners to bring the full weight of US diplomatic and economic weight to bear to restore democracy and the rule of law [in Venezuela].” Macri declared his opposition to military action, while Pence stated that the US would consider all options.
Whether the newfound goodwill between Macri and the Trump administration results in concrete steps is unknown. But two areas of cooperation seem likely if the Trump administration can compartmentalize its actions abroad from those at home: an easing of trade restrictions, and diplomatic cooperation to resolve the crisis in Venezuela.