Mark Menzies is a Conservative Member of Parliament for Fylde (Lancashire) and the head of the British-Argentine parliamentary group. Last December, he was named the United Kingdom’s Commerce Envoy to Argentina by Prime Minister Theresa May (added to Chile, Colombia and Peru). Last week, he wound up a maiden visit to Argentina packed with top-level meetings that included stops in Bariloche, Buenos Aires and Mendoza.
Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, Production and Labour Minister Dante Sica and Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui were among the Mauricio Macri administration officials sounded out by Menzies, who also met with Mendoza Governor Alfredo Cornejo, senators, deputies and businessmen as part of his aim of injecting a commercial element into a relationship hampered by the conflict over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.
“We must not let that be an obstacle,” he affirmed in an exclusive interview with PERFIL, reproduced here in the Times.
What’s your task as commercial envoy to Argentina?
Britain and Argentina trade around 1.5 billion pounds sterling (or US$ 1.94 billion). Considering that we are both G20 members, that’s very little, almost embarrassingly so.
We must think up ways in which we can work in alliance with Argentina so that British companies get to know the Argentine market better and find the right conditions for trade and investment. For me it would be a success to come back in one or two years time and see that number not to be 1.5 billion pounds but 3 to 3.5 billion or 4 to 5 billion.
In what areas do you see growth potential for trade and investment between the two countries?
Many. Brexit is creating an enormous opportunity for resetting the trade relationship. Argentina has one of the biggest reserves of shale oil and shale gas in the world and also considerable offshore reserves. The UK is a world leader in offshore oil technology. In April I’ll be heading up a trade delegation visiting Argentina which will include some worldleading British companies in that sector.
When I was in Mendoza, I visited the Diageo bottling plant and also the Trapiche winery. The UK is the world’s second-largest consumer market for Argentine wine after the United States.
Olive oil is another example. It is impossible to buy Argentine olive oil in Britain because of the high tariffs imposed by the European Union to protect producers in Spain, Italy and Greece. That’s one example of how there could be a mutually beneficial improvement in our relationship.
Is the Malvinas issue an obstacle to increasing bilateral trade?
We must not let it be an obstacle. Any barrier to increasing trade is in reality an obstacle to prosperity. We should all be thinking of how our actions can create jobs and prosperity, increase the country’s capacity to generate currency and improve public services.
With respect to the Islands, I have been profoundly moved by the joint work of both governments together with the International Red Cross in identifying those young men whose bodies have remained ‘NN’ for so long. Behind each of those unidentified tombs was a family which felt the loss of a father or a brother.
It was, of course, a very difficult time in our past but we should also recognise that many families now know a little more about the death of their loved ones. We should keep working along those lines to bring people together instead of finding motives to separate them.
Did you discuss the Malvinas issue with Marcos Peña or any other official?
My meetings followed my role as commerce envoy aiming for a highly focused agenda. The key thing for me was that all conversations be positive, creating trade and investment opportunities for Argentina.
In May we will be hosting an Argentine delegation in London, where there will be people looking for opportunities in energy, mining, gas and also tourism. That’s what concerns me as commerce envoy, I have no other responsibilities.
Is London seeking new markets for the post-Brexit era and is Argentina one of them?
You bet. The UK was always better off when we had a vision of the future and were inclusive. Some have misinterpreted Brexit as the UK turning its back on Europe and looking inward. That’s not true, it’s quite the opposite. The EU is sure to continue being the UK’s biggest trade partner. But when you think that the world markets offering the biggest potential are in Latin America (obviously including Argentina), Southeast Asia and many parts of Africa, it becomes clear that that is where future growth lies in the long term. It is absolutely essential that we remain open to exploring each of those markets individually and constructing a strong relationship.
Will Prime Minister Theresa May be able to pull off an agreement with the European Union over Brexit?
I know that the PM is committed to that. It’s up to Parliament. I hope that we can get the agreement amended there. It’s very important that the government honour the result of the referendum where 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU.