Macri calls for unity in fight to protect free markets, amid controversial deportations and US hostility
The optimism surrounding the WTO event comes in stark contrast with the United States's position on multilateral trade accords. Argentina has also received criticism for having barred and deported journalists from Buenos Aires over the weekend.
Argentina sent mixed messages to the world this weekend as it opened the World Trade Organisation’s annual Ministerial Meeting in Buenos Aires.
On the one hand, President Mauricio Macri spoke optimistically on the future of free-market economics in a global context tending toward protectionism and US hostility which the country led by Donald Trump has at times aimed specifically at the WTO. In his opening remarks, Macri urged that “the path forward is an open world”.
On the other hand, dozens of civil society representatives were barred from attending the high-profile event despite having accreditation from the WTO. Some like Norwegian Petter Titland and British-Ecuadorian journalist Sally Burch were deported.
In yet another sign of changing political tides in the region, Macri was joined by nine Latin American counterparts in signing the “Buenos Aires Declaration” which seeks to promote “open markets with transparent, inclusive, non discriminatory and non discriminate rules”.
They were: Brazil (represented by President Michel Temer), Mexico, Chile, Paraguay (represented by President Horacio Cartes), Uruguay (represented by President Tabaré Vásquez), Colombia, Guyana, Peru and Surinam.
As the event got under way, Argentina’s Foreign Affairs Ministry was backtracking on unprecedented moves it made to restrict access to the event. These included the deportation on security grounds of dozens of civil society representatives, many with WTO clearance, and journalists.
Norwegian journalist Petter Titland was able to return to Buenos Aires after his deportation to Brazil, thanks to the intervention of the Norwegian Embassy.
British-Ecuadorian journalist Sally Burch, travelling on an Ecuadorian passport, indicated from Quito she would not return to the country and had not sought assistance from the British Embassy in Argentina.
“The first reasons the Argentine Foreign Office gave was that they had determined that the organisations that were denied (entry to the event) were disruptive and not constructive to the work agenda of the Ministerial Conference, which is totally false,” she told the online news portal LetraP.
Argentina's Foreign Office said Monday it was assessing ‘case-by-case’ the entry of journalists and civil society representatives so long as they were able to provide a guarantor for good conduct.
Protests in Buenos Aires began over the weekend and are expected to last the duration of the event through Wednesday.
EU officials will also meet with counterparts from the South American trade bloc known as Mercosur to continue talks on a free trade accord. These discussions have been going on for nearly 20 years.
Expectations for any kind of a breakthrough at the meeting are low.
For the past decade the WTO has failed to make progress in the so-called Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks, which began in 2001.
The WTO is also accused of failing to do enough to resolve problems that some of its members have with China.
"There is life after Buenos Aires," said the president of the conference, Susana Malcorra of Argentina.
She has said a deal was likely to end harmful fisheries subsidies, of keen interest to developing countries.
Beijing, meantime, wants to be seen by the WTO as a "market economy," but the Europeans and the United States -for once on the same wavelength on trade issues- oppose this. Any such recognition would entitle China to preferential economic treatment under WTO rules.
It is currently classed as a non-market economy. That status allows the US and others to use a special recourse to levy anti-dumping duties against China if they determine that it is selling its goods -- notably steel and aluminum -- at unfairly low prices abroad.
A European diplomat in Buenos Aires said protectionist US rhetoric may actually give fuel to negotiations between the EU and Mercosur.