FOREIGN RELATIONS SPOTLIGHT
By Anneke Clarke
Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Chile and Uruguay
Capital City: Buenos Aires
President: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Currency: Argentine Peso
41,087,000 (est. World Bank)
Life expectancy: 72.5 years (male) 79.8 years (female) (UN)
Spanish (official); English, Italian, German, and French also exist in some areas
Ranked 49/187 in the Human Development Index (2014)
Ranked 124/189 in the Ease of Doing Business (World Bank 2015)
Argentina is synonymous with Maradona and Messi as well as the racy dance of tango. What is less known is that this South American country is the eight-largest country in the world with a total area of approximately 2.8 million square kilometres, which is double the size of South Africa. Argentina has a population of a little over 40 million people with about 80 per cent of them living in the urban areas such as Buenos Aires.
Argentinian Ambassador to South Africa H.E. R. Carlos Sersale di Cerisano describes his country as “a country of immigration...For example in Buenos Aires in 1905, two thirds of the population were foreigners. This has created cultural diversity and social mobility because it is a country that is used to and still is accustomed to receiving foreigners. About seven million tourists visit Argentina each year. That is an important number because we are far; travelling from Europe is 14 hours and from the US it is 11 hours although we are in the same time zone.”
Diplomatic relations between the Argentine Republic and South Africa was first established on 10 September 1947, but was cut in 1985 following the Non-Aligned Movement policy guidelines of boycotting the Apartheid Government. In August 1991, full diplomatic relations between both countries was re-established.
The Argentinian embassy in Pretoria covers 10 countries including South Africa - Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. “Our general strategy is to use SA as a hub to relate to the other countries,” Amb. Sersale di Cerisano says whilst emphasising that there is a country strategy for each one driven largely by a philosophy of complementarity.
Since the re-establishment of relations, bilateral cooperation has quickly expanded, with a large number of official visits being exchanged between the two countries.
In the meantime Amb. Sersale di Cerisano notes that Argentina and South Africa have a lot in common which allows for the strengthening of relations. “We have the same economic dimensions, more or less the same GDP...we have the same international challenges, we are part of the same group of G20, we have the same interests at global level and social challenges…so it is easy to look for complementarity.” He adds that Argentina is the only country in North & South America to play internationally competitive rugby on par with South Africa and that Argentina was able to join the Four Nations with the support of South Africa.
In 2007, Argentina and South Africa had the first meeting of the Bi-national Commission (BNC) as a way of improving bilateral ties and there have been four meetings since then. “The relations is very rich. South Africa is among the 16 priorities in terms of trade, investment and political consultation,” Amb. Sersale di Cerisano observed.
Argentina and South Africa have signed a number of treaties and agreements covering areas such as agricultural development, science and technology, nuclear cooperation, defence, health, sports, arts and culture, and education.
A major outcome of the 4th BNC in 2013 was an undertaking to establish a Joint Sub-Commission on Trade and Investment within the framework of the BNC for the purposes of addressing bilateral and multilateral issues, including non-tariff barriers. In addition, the two countries signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement, and an Agreement on Mutual Assistance between Customs Administrations.
According to Amb. Sersale di Cerisano “It is not just the meeting of the ministers. We have 14 thematic groups that work together with agreed outcomes. Since 2006 we have signed and implemented more memoranda of understanding and bilateral treaties than our previous history. The point is how you operationalise them, it is not just the signature so you create a niche and develop the instruments for them.”
He cited the area of political consultation as one area where there has been growing cooperation between Argentina and South Africa especially in the protection of human rights. “We have a consultation mechanism on human rights to coordinate activities in Geneva or wherever or to promote international human rights treaties in our own respective regions. There are certain countries that may not be signatories to the treaty so we go with South Africa and we propose a plan of action not just with governments but also with civil society.”
As regards technical cooperation, a major area being explored is farming technology especially using “no-till” farming. “When I came here South Africa was an important food exporting country but it ceased to be so in the last 10-12 years. Well there were a lot of discussions around land redistribution system and my assessment was that it was a technological issue especially what type of technology was being used to increase productivity and efficiency besides the social issues associated with land redistribution and so on. So what we started doing, through technical cooperation, was to train farmers here to increase efficiency and productivity in the way that they farm. In Argentina we have the fairly new technology called no-till technology because they don’t plough deep and in this country you do not need to plough deep which will affect the environment because SA is semi-arid,” Amb. Sersale di Cerisano said.
In this regard, the South African Minister of Agriculture will be visiting Argentina to get first-hand experience of the technology which could lead to an increase in yield of a minimum of 30 per cent through crop rotation.
Argentina is South Africa’s third largest trading partner in the Latin American and Caribbean region, after Brazil and Mexico, but one of Amb. Sersale di Cerisano’s objectives is to have much more balanced trade between Argentina and South Africa. Trade is mainly in automobile parts, agricultural products, textiles, mining products and petrochemicals.
“The trade-off in my view is trade on our side and investment on the other side because when you look at the structure of South Africa and its industrial and financial sectors, it has a financial system of first world. It is an industrial country and they have capacity in the sectors where you have holdings like in mining, forestry, petrochemical but the industrial sector is not so diversified to allow for variety of exports. In the case of Argentina, the industrial structure is more like the Italian and Japanese models that is small and medium companies so Argentina has more capacity for exports,” he said.
|YEAR||IMPORTS FROM ARGENTINA TO SOUTH AFRICA US$||EXPORTS TO ARGENTINA FROM SOUTH AFRICA US$||TRADE BALANCE US$|
Source: UN Comtrade Database
At present there is a preferential agreement between Mercosur and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) which provides for respective tariff concessions covering around 1,000 products each way with preference margins spread over 100-10%.
Mercosur is the "Common Market of the South," which is an economic agreement among Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay to promote the free movement of goods, services and people among member states. SACU comprises Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.
Although the scope of the agreement is miniscule in terms of global trade, Amb. Sersale di Cerisano is hopeful that “once the agreement has been ratified by all the parliaments, I suppose our countries need to start looking at other issues such as agreement between customs, fiscal agreement for information exchange to address everything related to trade including cargo.”
He is also optimistic that as the economic situation in Argentina improves there will be growth in investments.
In 2014 to commemorate 20 years of democracy in South Africa and 30 years since the fall of the military dictatorship in Argentina, the Argentine embassy in collaboration with the Government of South Africa hosted a week of activities to mark these important milestones. “Last year we had the Argentinian week which focussed on four areas - music, dance, theatre and exhibitions...and it was fantastic,” Amb. Sersale di Cerisano said. He stressed that the approach was to link Argentinian and South African performing artistes and as a result the SA National Youth Orchestra will be performing in Argentina in 2016. In addition there were workshops at universities, presentations at the arts festival in Grahamstown. There is also a collaborative project in theatre.
Amb. Sersale di Cerisano notes that a major outcome of this exchange is the soon-to-be-staged South African week in Argentina.
Argentinian Diaspora in South Africa
There is a large Argentinian Diaspora of about 4.000 families in South Africa with most of them living in Johannesburg. “There are different waves of immigration starting in the 70s and 80s when SA was attracting professionals such as architects, engineers and physicians. In the 90s you had other groups such as managers and relatives of those living here,” Amb. Sersale di Cerisano said.
He notes that there is a very active Argentinian Association in Johannesburg.
The Group of Latin American and the Caribbean Countries (GRULAC)
Amb. Sersale di Cerisano is also Dean of GRULAC and Deputy Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Pretoria. He emphasised that the Latin and Caribbean countries make up 13 per cent of the Diplomatic Corps in Pretoria. He notes that the Group seeks to raise awareness of the LAC region, collaborate in various areas such as academics mainly through the University of Pretoria and to explore mutually beneficial development endeavours. He adds that the Group is currently working with the University of Pretoria to stage a conference on global cities which is intended to examine different urban problems such as homelessness, transportation, urban planning etc. They are also working to establish a LAC centre at the University of the Pretoria.
Argentina winning the Grulac Tournament featured in the September 2007 issue of The Diplomatic Society (Foreign Exchange) Click here
According to Amb. Sersale di Cerisano the sports programme in schools has had a significant impact. Through this programme, each member country sponsors a football team for the annual tournament. “When I arrived here in 2006 I went to the school that is sponsored by Argentina and the staff would go every Monday to train the students. The first year they got to the final and the second year they won. The principal of the school told me that there were kids who only came to school on the day we had training,” he recalled.
The GRULAC also stages an annual film festival to showcase the life and culture of the member countries and stimulate interest in their film and creative industries.
Argentina South Africa Relations –the Future
In terms of what the future holds for Argentina/South Africa relations, Amb. Sersale di Cerisano believes that there can only be growth on all fronts “because for our respective histories, we have been looking north or diagonally to Europe and South Africa has been looking east and Europe but when you look at South American history, we have more things in common with the African continent than Africa has with the east.” He says that taking cognisance of these realities and capitalising on the opportunities could only impact relations positively.