British trade delegation visits Argentina: first step in the new relationship?

Lord Price, Minister of State at the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), led a British trade delegation to Argentina on 5-6 May – the first such trade mission in 10 years and an early symbol perhaps of the new relationship espoused at the Davos meeting between David Cameron and President Macri in January.

Lord Price, a former chief executive of Waitrose, was accompanied by senior representatives of ten British companies in the fields of finance, infrastructure, transportation, pharmaceuticals and architecture, looking to boost investment in and technical co-operation with Argentina. A UK delegation from the oil and gas industry is due to visit later – and an Argentine mission will attend the London Technology week in June.

Lord Price had meetings with the Argentine Ministers for business, production, trade and technology and visited the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, Argentina’s Rural Society and an iconic railway station, built by the British in the mid-19th century where the ‘Mitre’ line is being electrified by a British firm. In his speech, Lord Price recalled the historical trading links between Britain and Argentina and pointed to more recent investment such as the new City Hall in Buenos Aires, designed by Foster & Partners (opened in 2015).

Lord Price also pressed for the early completion of the EU free trade agreement with Mercosur (comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela). These talks have stumbled along since 2000 but have been given a boost more recently by developments in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The UK is keen to develop closer trading links with countries in South America; Lord Price had immediately beforehand visited Colombia and, a little earlier, Mexico.

President Macri came to power promising a new, broader and more mature relationship between Argentina and the UK, indicating that Argentina would not want their bilateral relationship with the UK to continue to be dominated solely by matters relating to the Falkland Islands. This trade mission can be seen as the start of that. But it has not stopped Argentina’s rhetoric about their claim to the Falkland Islands (or nonsenses like taking the opportunity of a visit by Spain’s acting Foreign Minister to issue an unnecessarily provocative joint statement on the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar). It is probably unrealistic to expect them to change their spots but if there is to be any meaningful change, we need more co-operation and less constant assertion of their sovereignty claim.