Brazil leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva underlined the significance of his visit to Argentina on Monday, declaring that his headline meeting with President Alberto Fernández marked “the beginning of a new history” between the two nations.
"My presence in this first [international] trip [since taking office] is to say ... that we are going to rebuild the peaceful, productive, advanced relationship between two countries that were born to grow and develop" together, said the leftist leader during a press conference at the Casa Rosada.
"I am back to make good agreements with Argentina. Brazil is once again with open arms," declared Lula.
The 77-year-old president’s choice of Buenos Aires for his first state visit of his new term was a nod to the traditions of the past, but Lula was also in town to attend the summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to which Brazil is returning after a few years of absence, and to talk about the future of the Mercosur trade bloc.
Brazil is Argentina's main trading partner, according to official figures released last week by the INDEC national statistics bureau, with bilateral trade approaching US$29 billion in 2022. Argentine exports to its neighbour accounted for 14.3 percent of all sales abroad, worth US$12.7 billion in 2022. Close to 20 percent of Argentina's imports are from Brazil, worth just over US$16 billion last year.
"Argentina is the most important country in our diplomatic relations," Feliciano de Sa Guimaraes, academic director for the Brazilian Center for Diplomatic Relations, told AFP.
Likewise, Fernandez's government "depends a lot on Brazil," not least in its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with whom Argentina has a US$44-billion debt.
‘Treated with affection’
Lula took advantage of his return to the international political arena to offer "apologies to the Argentine people for all the rudeness" he attributed to the "last president of Brazil" – a reference to his predecessor in office, Jair Bolsonaro.
From now on, "Argentina will be treated with affection, and with the respect it deserves,” he declared. “Not even football will be a cause for division," he joked, confessing that he had supported Argentina for the first time during the World Cup final out of admiration for Albiceleste captain Lionel Messi.
Although no specific announcements were made, Lula and Fernández both commented on plans to develop a trade mechanism based on a common currency to reduce dependence on the dollar. Agreeing that the use of foreign currencies is normally “harmful” for Latin American nations, two leaders did not reveal additional details.
Lula also revealed that Brazilian firms are interested in Argentina’s giant Néstor Kirchner Gas Pipeline project and may participate in the bidding tender for the construction of the line’s second stage. In addition, they instructed their teams to encourage the development of projects related to offshore oil exploration.
During his time in Buenos Aires, Lula also found time to meet with leaders from the Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups, hailing them as "an inspiration in defence of democracy in Latin America."