Argentina’s recently elected president certainly added life this January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While global economic forecasters were worried about recession, the Coca-Cola Co. announced that it would invest $1 billion in expanding bottling and distribution operations over the next four years in Latin America’s third largest economy.
“We were in Davos,” Noberto Pontiroli, an international strategist for Argentina’s cabinet of ministers, told Global Atlanta last week during an interview in the “Pink House,” officially known as “Government House,” where the president maintains his office.
“We saw that Argentina was seen as taking a historic role…as having the potential to be a major player in the international arena. We have a population of 45 million but can produce enough food for 200 million.”
Mr. Pontiroli, an appointee of the new president Mauricio Macri, whom he worked for on international affairs when Mr. Macri was mayor of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s federal capital, embodies many of the positive aspirations for the new government.
Somewhat reminiscent of the enthusiasm of former President Carter’s aides Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell when Mr. Carter arrived in Washington, Mr. Pontiroli said that Mr. Macri represented a new, hopeful message for Argentines after 12 years of the administrations of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.
Although decisive the election returns were close enough — 51.4 percent for Mr. Macri, with 48.6 percent for Daniel Scioli, an ally of the Kirchners — to show a divided electorate.
“One of Mr. Macri’s main goals is to unite the Argentinians,” said Mr. Pontiroli, which he accepted would be a challenge in view of the years of political controversy between supporters of free market and more socialist economic models.
With this goal in mind, according to Mr. Pontiroli, one of Mr. Macri’s favorite political leaders is Nelson Mandela, whom he likes to cite as a unifying figure, not because he considers Argentina and South Africa as very similar, but because he was a master of using sports as a unifying force.
As the former president of Boca Juniors, one of the two most popular football clubs in Argentina, it’s easy to see why Mr. Macri would want to make the connection to Mr. Mandela who made full use of the Springboks‘ 1995’s World Cup rugby victory on its home pitch.
“We like to say that we are in love with the future,” Mr. Pontiroli added. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can we do better in the future?’ We’re not looking backwards and explaining ourselves through our history. We used this idea a lot during the campaign.”
A former student at the Columbia Business School in New York, and a pro-business conservative, it’s no surprise that even before Mr. Macri got to Davos and met with Muhtar Kent, Coke’s CEO, and other business leaders, he vowed to strengthen Argentina’s foreign ties and develop good relations with the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, he also displayed some constraint by not letting his efforts to privatize industries include such sacred cows as Aerolinas Argentinas and YPF, the country’s main energy company.
He, however, did quickly remove currency controls in his first days in office, which were generally unpopular with business because they thwarted foreign investment by overseas companies prevented from repatriating their profits.
And he scrapped export taxes on agricultural products such as wheat, beef and corn and reduced them on soybeans, the biggest export.
In the past, farmers hoarded their produce rather than export due to high export tariffs and domestic price controls. Import restrictions also have put replacement parts and productivity-enhancing technology out of reach.
Inflation remains a problem at roughly an annual rate of 25 percent, and Mr. Macri can expect criticism for this age-old Argentine malady.
But Mr. Pontiroli said that nobody can expect an immediate turnaround. And he recalled the former mayor’s efforts to improve Buenos Aires capabilities to deal with raging flooding that plagued the city in 2013.
“When journalists ask us this question, we answer that it depends on how you talk to society,” he said. “If you tell the truth, or if you lie and people believe in six months their expectations are going to be that everything will be perfect.”
According to Mr. Pontiroli, Mr. Macri’s approach was to admit “that this year the city will keep flooding, next year there will be flooding again and in three years, it won’t flood.”
Since inflation has been galloping for five years, he can’t promise a cure right away, Mr. Pontiroli insisted. “We have had inflation for five years,” he said, even though the Kirchner government, he added, denied that there was inflation.
To solve inflation, it must be recognized, he said, and he predicted that the government would try to reduce it to a single digit by the end of three years.
Meanwhile, having used Davos as a springboard, Mr. Macri has been avidly hosting foreign leaders and overseas trade missions with a visit by President Obama scheduled for late March, following his visit to Cuba.
Patrick Wall, the senior commercial officer at the U.S. embassy in Buenos Aires, told Global Atlanta that he was extremely busy hosting delegations and preparing for the president’s visit.
Mr. Obama’s entourage is expected to include more than 700, not counting business delegations that are to be visiting at the same time bringing the overall number to more than 1,000.
A broad range of issues is to be addressed including investments, trade, climate change, human rights and renewable energy. Others such as innovation, women’s roles and entrepreneurship may be added.
Since Mrs. Obama and her daughters also are to be in the entourage their agenda linking communities and sustainability may also be added.
With 400 U.S. firms already in the country that have been there for more than 20 years, observers are expecting a series of announcements, even though they probably won’t match Coke’s.
And Argentines already have witnessed visits by Francois Hollande, the president of France, and Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy.
While it may be still early in the game, there is no question that Mr. Macri is aiming to score more foreign investment goals, providing some life to a sluggish world economy.
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