President Obama’s travels to Latin America this week included a visit to Argentina and its newly elected president, Mauricio Macri. New leadership in Argentina presents new possibilities for increased cooperation with the United States, including the expansion of bilateral trade.
According to Argentine Ambassador Martín Lousteau, speaking about current trade between the two nations at The Heritage Foundation last week, Argentines need to see the direct benefits to their nation when talking about increasing trade with the U.S.
“Argentina is a big agro-industrial country with a long tradition of, and enormous capacity for, producing our industrial products, and is a global player in the agro industry. The U.S. imports nearly $150 billion in agro-industrial products,” but Argentina represents only 1 percent of these imports, explained the Ambassador.
Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of soybean meal and soybean oil, yet the United States has import tariffs on these products of 1.9 percent and 19.1 percent, respectively. Despite their world standing, the U.S. has not imported soybean oil from Argentina since 2006. Of the nine Latin American countries that export more agricultural products to the U.S. than Argentina, seven have free trade agreements which eliminate these and other barriers.
Protectionist trade policies in the U.S. aren’t the only limiting factors in this trade relationship. According to The Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom:
Argentina has a 6.3 percent tariff rate. A wide range of non-tariff barriers and foreign investment restrictions give Argentina one of the world’s worst trade and investment climates.
The U.S. represents a mere 13.5 percent of Argentina’s annual imports.
Ambassador Lousteau made it clear that Argentina is now “open for business” under President Macri, but added the caveat that “trade agreements are something you need to tackle very carefully because they have long-term impacts, and Argentina has not been engaging in this kind of exercise for a long time.”
Bilateral trade agreements are not the only way to promote free trade. Bryan Riley, Senior Policy Analyst in Trade Policy at The Heritage Foundation, states that “the simplest way to achieve trade freedom is to unilaterally reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers. Reducing trade barriers allows countries to reap benefits including increased foreign investment and accelerated economic growth.”
President Macri has made it clear that Argentina’s openness to the global market is a priority, and his welcoming of President Obama this week illustrates these efforts. Trade negotiations between the two nations would be a good next step in building a closer relationship.