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WORLD | 01-12-2018 10:40

UK PM May makes history with Buenos Aires visit

British leader meets with President Macri on sidelines of first day of G20 summit, as both avoid discussion of Malvinas.

Theresa May has made history after becoming the first British prime minister to set foot in Buenos Aires, some 36 years after the South Atlantic War.

The British leader landed at Ezeiza international airport Thursday night ahead of G20 Leaders Summit, where she was met by Argentine officials and local British government representatives, including London’s ambassador in Buenos Aires, Mark Kent.

May’s visit for the two-day G20 meeting in Buenos Aires was a reflection of improved ties between Argentina and the United Kingdom, which have deepened rapidly since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015.

The last time a sitting PM visited Argentina was back in 2001, when Tony Blair met then-Argentine president Fernando de la Rúa at Puerto Iguazú.

Before her departure, May said she was “pleased to be the first British Premier to visit its beautiful capital, Buenos Aires.

“This is just the latest milestone on a path showing a strengthening of relations between the UK and Argentina,” she added.

“We see Argentina as a key partner and the joint statement that the British Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan agreed in 2016 laid the foundation for greater cooperation in a wide range of areas,” said May, referring to a landmark accord reached two years ago.

In a sign of the importance of the visit, May met with her Argentine counterpart on the sidelines of the first day of the summit, during a coffee break in between working sessions.

 The 15-minute meeting, which was swiftly reported by local outlets, took in a range of issues, though both were keen to skirt over the issue of the sovereignty of the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, which Argentina claims as its own.

According to sources with knowledge of the meeting, the only mention of the issue was when the British PM thanked Macri for his government’s work in smoothing the path for a second regular flight to the islands. The two sides recently announced they had reached an agreement to allow more connectivity to the islands, with the new route due to stop in Córdoba.

“In the talk, there was no talk of sovereignty or the issue of Malvinas,” a source from the government told the local Clarín daily, which also confirmed that Macri had thanked May for her administration’s support in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over Argentina’s US$56-billion bail-out package.

Addressing the press after the meeting, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said the duo had talked about trade, investment, bilateral relations and “the change that has been generated over the last three years,” highlighting the “significant presence of British investors in Argentina.”

“It was a frank conversation in a positive atmosphere,” he added.

“The meeting between Prime Minister May and President Macri covered a wide, meaningful agenda that includes many common interests and projects designed to bring benefits to our peoples,” Ambassador Kent told the Times in a statement.

While Argentina has repeatedly indicated it will not drop its sovereignty claim over the disputed islands, both sides have agreed to work around the issue, seeking new areas of cooperation.

The 3,400 British citizens who live on the islands insist that sovereignty remains non-negotiable and say a proper thaw in their relations with Argentina remains distant.

However, they have reason to be worried about Brexit: if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, the islands’ economy – heavily reliant on tariff-free squid exports to EU member Spain – could face a hammer blow.

In the build-up to the visit, both sides have also talked up Brexit as a possibility to deepen ties, with Faurie hinting that the UK could look to seek a free-trade deal with the Mercosur trade bloc.



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