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Strengthening British-Argentine parliamentary ties

In my capacity as BGIPU Chairman, I led a delegation of UK parliamentarians on a bilateral inter-parliamentary visit to Argentina from 11-17 November 2013 accompanied by Anne McKechin MP, Chris Bryant MP, Baroness Hooper, Baroness Smith of Basildon and Baroness Stern.

At the invitation of our Argentine counterparts following bilateral exchanges in the margins of IPU Assembly meetings, the visit aimed to provide an opportunity for expanding knowledge and enhancing links between parliamentarians on both sides, to better appreciate the bilateral relationship in all its aspects. While well-known differences over the Falkland Islands were raised, we found the many common interests linking both countries, including extensive economic, social and historic links provided a broad basis on which we could share common perspectives and advance cooperation in many areas. It was clear that by acknowledging openly our differences, we are better able to work together to avoid negative impacts on the broader relationship. In turn, this allows us to develop a broader scope of common interests, avoiding the limitations and misunderstandings created by a narrow focus on a single issue of disagreement.

Commencing the visit on 11 November in Buenos Aires, the delegation was welcomed to Argentina by a lunch hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce. There were some 20 local participants gathered to meet the delegation, comprising representatives of major British businesses in Argentina. The event provided an excellent opportunity to hear about the conditions for business and investment in Argentina and underscored the important commercial, investment and trading links that exist between the two countries.

This event was followed by a briefing by the UK Ambassador to Argentina, HE John Freeman, and British Embassy staff on aspects of the bilateral relationship and recent political and economic developments in Argentina, including following recent Congressional elections which has seen a swing away from President Kirchner’s political grouping. This briefing underscored the long-standing links between the UK and Argentina also touching on tensions in the relationship over Argentina’s claims regarding the Falkland Islands. The discussion also highlighted the many areas of cooperation the UK and Argentina enjoy across a range of international issues, including through the G20 and engagement in the United Nations, including on the UN Security Council.

On 12 November, the delegation visited the Congressional Palace and met members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. An engaging roundtable meeting was chaired by Deputy Guillermo Carmona, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Lower Chamber and Daniel Filmus Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate. The Deputy Speaker of the Senate, Beatriz Roskes de Alperovich, also formally welcomed the delegation to Argentina.

This meeting involved both government and opposition counterparts, and covered a wide-range of key bilateral issues, including frank discussion of well-known differences in national approaches to the Falkland Islands. Argentine legislators proposed a joint parliamentary body on the matter but the UK delegation confirmed that this was not able to be addressed by UK Parliamentarians in isolation, but more constructively through Argentina engaging with the Falkland Islanders themselves. We said we would be happy to facilitate such contact but the intention of this BGIPU visit, as agreed in planning with our Argentina counterparts, was to better appreciate the bilateral relationship in all its aspects, not just focus on particular differences between the two nations. This objective was also reiterated in a range of local media interviews which successfully conveyed the delegation’s key objective to strengthen bilateral relations through improved inter-parliamentary understanding and cooperation.

Following this, the delegation met the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hector Timerman, where, in addition to an exchange on bilateral relations, including differing perspectives on the Falkland Islands, we discussed multilateral trade and the problems created by agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting measures. We also held very informative meetings with the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Justice, Elena Ines Highton de Nolasco, and Juan Martin Mena, the Deputy Secretary of Criminal Policy in the Ministry of Justice, to gain a better appreciation of advances being made on human rights and justice sector issues in the country.

On 13 November, the delegation met with the National Inter-University Council (CIN) to hear about education policy, including the growing links between institutions in the UK and Argentina. They also visited the Bicentenary Museum to gain a better appreciation of Argentina’s often difficult democratic evolution and visited the Museo de la Memoria (ex Detention Centre ESMA) to pay tribute the memory of ‘the disappeared’ and others who suffered during Argentina’s military dictatorship from 1976-1983. The delegation also discussed new developments in the energy sector in Argentina in meeting Miguel Matías Galuccio, President of the YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales), noting plans to develop its on-shore oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta. The delegation also met with the Secretary of Culture, Jorge Coscia, to discuss opportunities to expand cultural exchanges and people-to-people links between both countries.

On 14 November, following an exchange on the current state of play in Argentine politics with opposition figure, Ricardo Lopez Murphy, the delegation travelled to Chubut Province to meet representatives of the Welsh community in Gaiman. Discussing plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia in 2015, the delegation had the opportunity to experience a cultural performance by a Welsh choir and hear about the proud history of a community which embodies a vibrant cultural link between the two countries. While visiting Rawson, the delegation met the Governor of Chubut Province, Martin Buzzi, and senior officials where the Governor discussed the unique biodiversity of his province, highlighting ambitious plans to protect its environment through creating protected coastal and marine park areas.

On 15 and 16 November, the delegation visited Mendoza to hear more from provincial authorities on regional and rural development in Argentina, particularly regarding the impressive potential of Mendoza which has attracted significant local and global investment in a wide range of economic activities, from tourism and agriculture to manufacturing and the resource sector. The delegation visited IMPSA, one of Argentina’s largest global companies, and met with the authorities of the Chamber of Metalmechanics, to discuss the industrial and energy sectors of Mendoza province, including the development of cutting-edge hydro-electricity technology. The delegation also met with the largest locally-owned vineyard and the FECOVITA cooperative of 5000 producers to discuss the important viticulture industry in Mendoza which is a major centre for exports to the UK prior to returning to Buenos Aires for departure to the United Kingdom on 17 November.

You can read further reports from the visit on Human Rights by Baroness Stern, and Trade report by Ann McKechin MP.

Robert Walter MP