Buenos Aires Times

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A G20 with a southern point of view

History appears to making a detour to the Southern Cone. The G20 offers a host of opportunities for President Mauricio Macri and his government.

Monday 8 January, 2018
A photograph of the first G20 sherpas meeting in Bariloche.
A photograph of the first G20 sherpas meeting in Bariloche. Foto:G20 Argentina

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Argentina’s presidency of the G20 is a living proof of the Mauricio Macri government’s intention to assume responsibilities and tackle global challenges. It is also an example of its desire to integrate to the world through its vision of “diverse horizons” vision. But in light of this major task that lies ahead, Argentina’s foreign policy must look forward and ensure it makes a positive impact both in the content of the G20’s discussions, as well as in the symbolic aspects that surround the meetings. 

The G20, a forum of critical importance for international relations, will be taking place for the first time in South America. Contrasting Henry Kissinger’s remark that “the march of history had advanced from Europe to the west, to the United States and the Asia, and that nothing of importance had happened in the southern hemisphere,” history appears to be making a detour to the Southern Cone. The initial G20 meetings in Bariloche that took place in December – first, with representatives from nations’ economic teams and central banks, followed by a sherpas meeting – marked the initiation of this southern G20. 

Argentina intends to present what Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie has described as “a southern point of view,” working under the theme of “building consensus for fair and sustainable development.” In this delicate exercise of diplomacy, the Macri administration has chosen to focus on three themes: the future of jobs in the face of technological change, the creation of financial instruments to support infrastructure investments and ensuring food security. A deep analysis of these development topics should help to define a creative but realist development vision for Argentina, one that should prioritise the role of exports and of foreign direct investment.

The themes being proposed are relevant for the region and for developing countries in general. But, in the face of the current challenges that Brazil and Mexico are facing, Argentina must avoid overacting in terms of assuming regional leadership. Perhaps, our diplomatic corps should learn from the father of Brazilian diplomats, José Maria da Silva Paranhos Jr., the Barão de Rio Branco, who once remarked: “Think about it always, but do not ever talk about it.”

A southern point of view should include working heavily on the original G20’s mission: to ensure macroeconomic and financial stability at a global level. There should be continuity with respect to previous meetings, in a context of firm but not spectacular growth. On this topic one should expect higher degrees of caution, especially given that not even US President Donald Trump has made conflictive comments about the group. There will be a larger focus on cybersecurity and on the tax rules that need to be applied on international e-commerce.

Regarding non-financial thematic priorities for the G20, 10 topics have already been selected. At the promising first sherpa meeting in Bariloche, under the experienced leadership of Argentine Sherpa Pedro Villagra Delgado, the chosen topics were: agriculture, anti-corruption, commerce and investment, development, the digital economy, education, employment, health, climate sustainability and energy transitions.

Symbolism

If we are to intelligently integrate with the world, we must be intelligent in taking advantage of the imagery and symbolism that emerges from the G20 summit and the opportunities that provides. Our focus should be on two messages. 

The first one relates to that “diverse horizons” approach to foreign policy, which means to maintain positive and simultaneous relations with the “near abroad,” with the established powers, and with the emerging ones. The group photo with the G20 heads of state should help in this sense, but the message should be reinforced with images of President Mauricio Macri holding bilateral meetings with key leaders of these three groups.  

The second message should be that we want to be close to those nations with whom we can develop high-intensity relationships, based on shared political values. It would therefore be advisable for President Macri to appear close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – the leaders of the new free world, according to professor John Ikenberry, an international relations expert – or with leaders like Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron, who represent change in their own countries.

Staying on the symbolic side, it is a little surprising that nothing in the G20’s 2018 logo or branding communicates concepts about Argentina, the south, or South America. Some may think that this is a secondary issue, but we should recall that Chancellor Merkel spent a significant amount of time in her own G20 inaugural address talking about the meaning of Germany’s 2017 logo. She said that the imagery, in distinct German colours, had the shape of a sailors’ knot, as a tribute to the port city of Hamburg. She added that “the more we tighten the knot, the stronger cooperation becomes.” Given the time available until the presidential meeting, maybe Argentina should go back to the drawing board.

Most importantly of all, in this G20 at the end of the world, Argentina must project or position itself symbolically as an “honest breaker.” And our nation must strive to become an influencer on the topics that it has selected as priorities. Given the lack of strategic conflicts with established and emerging powers – Great Britain being the exception – Argentina can help to bridge positions and shape the global community’s priorities. 

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