Arguably the two biggest names of the new wave
of right-leaning leaders in Latin America, Presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Mauricio Macri, held
a series of bilateral meetings this week in Buenos Aires,
at which the duo talked up their hopes of securing a
long-trailed trade deal between the Mercosur bloc and
the European Union.
However, the Brazilian’s first visit to Argentina since
taking the presidency of Latin America’s largest economy was mostly a political affair, with little to no concrete measures emerging from the meet-up. Even those
hopes of an “imminent” EU-Mercosur accord were shot
down yesterday by European officials, who said there
was still a lot more talking to be done.
In the headline takeaway, Bolsonaro reiterated his
strong support for President Macri’s re-election hopes.
Speaking at a joint press conference on Thursday, the
ex-Army captain implored Argentines to vote for the
Cambiemos leader in October’s presidential elections.
“I want to call out to the Argentine people, God bless
them, as elections will be in October,” the outspoken
Brazilian president declared. “They must pick, as happened in Brazil, with more responsibility than emotion,
what’s best for their country because that is how we will
have peace, prosperity and happiness for our nations.”
Macri, of course, highlighted
once again that he has the support of the international community. “We have a long-lasting relationship with Brazil,
and we are strongly committed
to it and our joint development,” he explained.
ON THE AGENDA
Macri and Bolsonaro discussed several issue at the Casa
Rosada, including the situation
in Venezuela, where both presidents have actively expressed
their support for National Assembly President Juan Guaidó,
while calling for Nicolás Maduro to step down.
Energy was another talking
point, given the development of
the Vaca Muerta shale formation in the Argentine Patagonia
and Brazil’s vast reserves of oil
and natural gas held in the presalt fields off the Brazilian coast.
The duo ran into trouble on
one topic, however – the announcement that an agreement
is “imminent” on the long-awaited and much-trailed free-trade
agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur
trading bloc. Both Bolsonaro,
the outspoken Brazil president,
and President Macri expressed
confidence that the deal would
soon be signed soon.
“The signing of the Mercosur-EU accord is imminent,”
declared the Brazil leader, who
has actively pushed for the free
trade agreement since coming
“Everyone will win with this:
Brazil, Argentina and the other
countries in the bloc,” added
Bolsonaro, whose nation will
take over leadership responsibilities after the bloc’s next summit, scheduled for June.
Echoing that view, Macri said
the two groups of nations were
“very close to an agreement.”
The Mercosur bloc, which currently groups together Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, has been in negotiations
with the EU since 1999 to establish a trade agreement. But 20
years of talks have failed to produce an agreement, despite both
sides saying on several occasions that they were close to one.
The Macri administration
said at the end of 2017 that they
had hoped to clinch a deal on the
occasion of a World Trade Organisation summit in Buenos Aires, but differences arose, especially over agricultural goods.
On Tuesday, however, Brazil’s
Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said an agreement could be
reached in “three or four weeks.”
OFF THE AGENDA?
Across the Atlantic, things
didn’t seem so conclusive. Playing down claims made a day
earlier by the presidents of Argentina and Brazil that a sweeping free-trade deal was “imminent,” European Union officials
warned that the two leaders may
have been a little presumptuous – and that work is still to be done
if an accord is to be reached.
“The European Commission
welcomes and shares Mercosur’s
political commitment to bring
the current trade negotiations to
a successful conclusion,” a
spokeswoman for the European
Commission told the AFP news
Also coming out of the meeting was the idea of a common
“peso real” currency. Bolsonaro
and Guedes both floated the
idea during a meeting with Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie,
Production Minister Dante Sica,
and a group of industrialists and
Brazil’s Central Bank denied
any such project while Economy
Minister Nicolás Dujovne said
that there was no target date for
But Bolsonaro stood by the
plan on his return to Brazil,
saying yesterday: “It’s a first
step ... like the euro, the ‘peso
real’ could happen. Economics
is not my strong point but we
trust the experience, knowhow
and patriotism of my Economy
Minister Paulo Guedes in this
While not seeing the common
currency coming any time soon
as “a long-term initiative requiring convergence in many aspects including taxation and
labour,” Dujovne praised the
idea as “promoting greater stability and trade between both
countries,” also calling it
“Mercosur’s most important
project since the 1980s.”
Yet the idea is not new, surfacing in every presidency since
the creation of Mercosur (except
perhaps the brief 1999-2001
without coming to anything.
Nor did the two presidents offer
any details when floating the
convergence of their troubled
emerging markets on Thursday.
This week’s meeting was the
first bilateral between the two
leaders since Macri travelled to
Brasilia on January 16, two weeks after Bolsonaro assumed the
presidency. The Cambiemos
leader chose to skip his Brazilian counterparty’s inauguration two weeks earlier, deciding
instead to go on holiday.
The Brazilian leader arrived
in Buenos Aires late Thursday
morning. It is his first trip to the
country. Unlike his predecessors as president, who all ensured their first overseas trip was
to Argentina, the far-right former congressman decided to
give Chile that honour. He also
visited conservative allies in the
United States and Israel before
choosing to visit the Argentine
Bolsonaro’s first public act
was to lay flowers at the foot
of the Monument to the Liberator General San Martín in
the Retiro neighbourhood.
There, as he exited a vehicle,
a handful of people had gathered to express their support
or dismay for the Brazilian
leader. Supporters chanted
“Myth!”, as is the custom in
Brazil, while detractors branded him a “fascist” in song.
Protesters also held a rally
on Thursday at the Plaza de
Mayo, where demonstrators
expressed their rejection of