Former US president Barack Obama returned to Argentina last week for the second time in just 18 months, to lend his stature to the importance of renewable energy at the second annual Green Economy Summit held in Córdoba, as well as spend some quality time on the golf course with President Mauricio Macri.
And although not quite a porteño yet, president Obama made reference to his historic trip last year where he famously danced tango, sipped mate and agreed to numerous bilateral engagements between both countries.
As the US ambassador under president Obama for two years, I believe we made history in dramatically improving our bilateral relationship and working closely on issues such as security, renewable energy, science, trade, tourism and student exchange programmes. These initiatives, along with many others, created so much positive momentum that even the change of administrations in the United States did not hamper our bilateral progress.
As was demonstrated again last weekend, president Obama continues to be incredibly popular around the world, including here in Argentina. At the Green Economy Summit, politicians, entrepreneurs, leaders in civil society and top businessmen from various fields reiterated their strong commitment to sustainable development and renewable energy, a key issue we highlighted at the Embassy over the last two years. In fact, the US was the first Embassy in Argentina to install renewable energy with solar panels and the first in the world to install a wind turbine.
In Córdoba, president Obama emphasised the vast economic opportunities that exist with wind and solar energy, which are creating whole new industries in the US and around the world. In factthe leading new job creator in the US today is the manufacture, installation and maintenance of wind turbines. In California, the top new job creator has been the installation of solar panels on homes. These examples demonstrate that market forces are taking over from government mandates in the creation of clean, renewable energy around the world.
Although California and parts of the US are leading the way on clean energy, Argentina has the potential to make huge progress quickly. With laws that mandate clean energy must compose eight percent of the energy mix by the end of next year, and 20 percent by 2025, there has been strong international interest in investing in renewables in Argentina. This is just one sector in Argentina that investors are looking at today.
Other great investment opportunities include technology to increase production and efficiencies, agri-business – where Argentina is already a global leader but can still grow dramatically – and real estate, due to the lack of availability in both residential and commercial sectors.
I’ve said for months that I believe that Argentina is now in “Phase 2,” where investors and businesses have finally become comfortable with the idea of investing in Argentina (after a decade of bad international headlines) and are now looking for specific deals with local partners. I’ve also said for a long time that Argentines need to re-invest in their own country and statistics show that is now beginning to happen.
Lastly, the upcoming midterm election will add huge momentum to President Macri’s efforts to attract investments and stimulate the economy. Argentines are on the verge or strongly endorsing Macri's reform agenda through the ballot box next weekend. If the business community was hesitant to invest until now (in spite of them rooting for the president to succeed), there are few reasons to sit on the sidelines any longer.
For example, last week General Motors announced the company will invest US$500 million in Argentina and Seattle- based Amazon have signed an agreement recently to open a 100-person office in Buenos Aires by the end of the year, with the possibility of expanding much more next year.
There is a growing consensus that Argentina is turning the corner toward a much more robust economy and the opportunity for investment is now.