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With official visit to Argentina, Spanish PM turns page on Kirchner era

Mariano Rajoy begins a two-day trip to reinforce bilateral business ties and encourage investment

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (c) arrives in Argentina.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (c) arrives in Argentina. EFE

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy arrived in Buenos Aires on Monday to consolidate his good relations with President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, and to support the latter’s liberal reforms and governing style.

It had been more than 10 years since the last official trip to Argentina by a Spanish head of government, an anomalous situation for two countries with numerous exchanges at all levels. The last time was in 2007, when the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero met with then-President Néstor Kirchner.

Spanish companies continue to control key sectors of the Argentinean economy

Macri and Rajoy, whose primary goal during this visit is to reinforce economic ties, both delivered nearly identical messages to the media, stressing that the days of “abnormality” and confrontation with the Kirchner administrations, namely over investments by Spanish multinationals, are now over.

Macri, who visited Spain in February of last year, has asked the Popular Party (PP) leader to convey a message of confidence to Spanish investors, and to call on them to return to Argentina in greater numbers. Spain has lost political and economic clout in Argentina since the renationalization of Repsol subsidiary YPF by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012, when it slid from first to second position in terms of investment volume.

By comparison, Rajoy’s visit comes at a much quieter time. A simmering conflict between Telefónica and Grupo Clarín over a controversial merger seems on track to getting resolved, and threats of resorting to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) have been dropped.

Macri has asked Rajoy to convey a message of confidence to Spanish investors

In the meantime, Spanish companies continue to control key sectors of the economy such as telecommunications, energy, finance, security, technology and highway infrastructure. Spain is the second-biggest investor in Argentina after the United States, with investments in excess of €3 billion. In 2017, trade between both countries grew more than 20% to reach nearly €2.9 billion, with the balance showing a trade deficit of €299 million for Spain.

Rajoy’s agenda includes the inauguration of a bilateral business forum that will be attended by 80 Spanish and 200 Argentinean companies. Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, is planning to meet with his local counterpart and with representatives of top Spanish publicly traded companies with a presence in Argentina. The visit will also serve to sign memorandums of understanding in the fields of water management and information technology.

There are currently 476,449 registered Spaniards living in Argentina, according to recent embassy records. Rajoy is scheduled to meet with the Spanish community at the Club Español in Buenos Aires, founded in 1852. On Wednesday, the Spanish leader will also visit Memory Park, which holds a wall with the names of the victims of the Argentinean dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

English version by Susana Urra.

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