May 2017

By Gabriella Ippolito

This April, President of Argentina Mauricio Macri visited the United States for an official working visit with his U.S. counterpart President Donald Trump at the White House. President Macri also met with U.S. Congressional leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and gave a public address at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The topics under discussion included bilateral trade, the crisis in Venezuela, combating narcotics trafficking in the region, and the further declassification of documents relevant to the Argentine military dictatorship.

President Macri is the second Latin American leader to meet with President Trump, who earlier met with Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. This was a break from the past as typically the first Latin American leader new U.S. presidents meet with is the president of Mexico, which is the United States’ largest trade partner after Canada. Some observers have suggested that this speaks to the fact that presidents Macri and Trump have known each other personally since the 1980s through their business ties. President Macri was accompanied by Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, Minister of Production Francisco Cabrera, Minister of Energy and Mines Juan José Aranguren, and First Lady Juliana Awada.

The visit was primarily viewed as an effort to strengthen the U.S.-Argentina bilateral relationship, which had weakened during the term of Mr. Macri’s predecessor Christina Fernandez de Kirchner but which was reinvigorated by President Obama’s visit to Argentina in 2016. After their meeting, President Trump called Mr. Macri a “regional leader.” The two presidents issued a joint statement about the “deteriorating situation in Venezuela” and committed to working “closely together to preserve democratic institutions in that country.” In addition, they pledged to strengthen efforts to “combat narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, terrorist financing, corruption and other illicit finance activities” through a recently-established Argentina-United States Dialogue on Illicit Finance and announced a new bilateral Cyber Working Group.

The discussions also touched on tricky bilateral trade issues. Lemon exports, a major production and export sector for Argentina, have been banned from entry to the U.S. for the past 16 years. Before President Obama left office, the two countries had negotiated lifting the ban but President Trump suspended implementation of the rule soon after his inauguration. In their meeting, President Trump said he was “favorably disposed” to unblocking the freeze on lemon imports and on May 1 the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that lemon imports from Argentina would be permitted into the northeastern U.S. after the current stay expires on May 26, a win for Mr. Macri.

President Macri emphasized the improving economic situation in Argentina and cited recent market-oriented reforms needed for the country’s economic recovery. He focused on key areas for deepening Argentina-U.S. ties in sectors such as agriculture, energy, and technology and expressed confidence that President Trump was interested in this kind of cooperation. He described his meeting at the White House as “amazing” and very friendly and that it gave him “high hopes” for the bilateral relationship. 

While the two countries’ relationship has ebbed and flowed over the years, the apparent success of this visit by Mr. Macri suggests the potential for further opening and deepening of cooperation. Observers will be watching closely to decipher whether the relationship can continue to move in this positive direction.