The G20 Leaders Summit in Buenos Aires promises to be one of the tensest in its 10-year history, as the global economy finds itself gripped in the middle of a trade battle between the United States and China, and a rise in nationalism threatens globalisation and the norms of the international community. President Mauricio Macri will have the difficult task of hosting the world’s most powerful leaders in the midst of a turbulent local environment too, one that has seen the Argentine peso dramatically depreciate against the US dollar, while inflation remains stubbornly high and the economy officially enters into a technical recession.
At stake will be the battle between protectionism and open markets, between sustainable development and the rejection of the Paris Accord, and ultimately the balance of power between today’s military powers, Russia, China and the USA.
The main objective for the president and his team will be to ensure a smooth summit that continues to build on his plan to integrate Argentina once again into the international community.
First and foremost, this means guaranteeing security in a Buenos Aires that will be under lockdown beginning today. The federal government will be coordinating more than 22,000 officers from four national forces, along with City and Province of Buenos Aires police and the support of foreign militaries — the US alone is reportedly bringing a nuclear aircraft carrier and some 1,000 security officers.
Controversially Security Minister Patricia Bullrich told residents to “leave Buenos Aires” in order to avoid distrubances. Yet, a recent violent attack followed by clashes in the immediacy of the River Plate stadium last week casts doubts over the government’s capacity to guarantee safety, particularly in the face of expected violent protests by Anti-G20 groups.
Hosting the world’s leaders is an opportunity for Macri, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, and Economy Minister Nicolás Dujovne to prove that Argentina has finally left behind populism. This means demonstrating that the country’s political class has grown up and is capable of rational democratic dialogue, and, of course, that former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has no chance in next year’s presidential elections, something that remains to be seen.
In parallel, Argentina’s fragile economy has suffered self-inflicted and external hits that have left the country in recession, with inflation expected to close the year around 50 percent, and rising unemployment. Securing confidence from the international community is key, which could come in the form of bilateral free trade agreements between Mercosur and the EU, Great Britain, Japan, and the US, investments in infrastructure and public works from Russia and China, and concrete signs from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other multilateral institutions.
The president will hold bilaterals with several key leaders. With Donald Trump, Macri will continue to look for economic support both with the International Monetary Fund and with bilateral trade.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin will give the Argentine president an opportunity to pursue investments, particularly in the energy sector, as with China’s Xi Jinping who Macri will pursue to increase its exposure to the Vaca Muerta shale formation.
On the European front, Angela Merkel will be key in pushing the long delayed European Union-Mercosur free trade agreement, while British Prime Minister Theresa May will listen to Macri’s proposals to deepen the bilateral relationship despite Argentina’s claim to sovereignty of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.
The summit’s most important meeting, though, will be that between Trump and Xi Jinping. During their first tête-à-tête since the so-called trade war began, global markets will be expecting some signs of a possible truce between the world’s largest economies.
While this is unlikely, the unpredictable nature of Trump’s foreign policy interventions could generate unexpected outcomes. The possibility of Trump signing the USMCA or NAFTA2 agreement with Canada and Mexico could put this summit in the history books as well, as well as discussions regarding the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s role in Eastern Europe and Syria.
It will be jam-packed for Macri, who hopes things run smoothly so that his electoral ambitions in 2019 remain. With the first G20 summit in South America, though, things could always get even more interesting.
Major geopolitical rumblings to rock Buenos Aires
The G20 Leaders Summit in Buenos Aires on Friday sees Argentina as host and coordinator of an event with broad geopolitical implications. Among the disputes and interests of the world’s major economies are six potential milestone which could define the short- and medium-term outlook for international diplomacy.
Donald Trump and Xi Jinping
The world’s attention remains firmly set on the meeting during this year’s G20 between the world’s two major superpowers. Discussions into a possible US-China trade deal were tainted throughout most of 2018 by an unsettling trade war. US President Donald Trump said recently China “wants to make a deal” but the dominant feeling in Beijing is one of caution. On top of the US$250-billion worth of tariffs Washington has slapped on its trading partners since September, the US is also demanding changes to China’s handling of intellectual property disputes and the forced transfer of technology from US companies.
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
A photo likely to go viral during this year’s summit is the one expected of Vladimir Putin extending his hand to Donald Trump, or vice-versa. The scheduled meeting between the two world leaders comes as special prosecutor Robert Muller pens the final details of his investigation into the so-called Russia-gate scandal. The last time Trump and Putin met was during bilateral talks in July, 2017 in Helsinki, when the US leader dismissed the findings of his own intelligence services to instead “buy” the Kremlin’s version of events.
Theresa May and Mauricio Macri
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives in Buenos Aires on Friday to meet her Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri. On their bilateral agenda is the possibility of a second weekly flight between mainland Argentina and the Malvinas Islands. May’s visit is the first to the Argentine capital since the end of the 1982 war over control of the islands and the first to Argentina since Tony Blair and Fernando de la Rúa met at Puerto Iguazú in 2001.