The Ambassador of the Argentine Republic on the significance of the re-opening of the embassy here, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Argentina and an invitation to investors to be part of the country’s economic growth
PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong was on a working visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina in conjunction with the 13th G20 Leaders’ Summit. Please tell us more about the visit.
It was very important for us to have Prime Minister Lee visiting Argentina for the first time. We worked closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore to ensure the success of the visit, and are confident that we achieved the goal. During his visit, Prime Minister Lee participated in the G20 Leaders Summit and was able to maintain a very productive bilateral agenda as well.
As part of the latter, Prime Minister Lee held meetings with President Mauricio Macri together with Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, and Esteban Bullrich, Senator for the Province of Buenos Aires, which is the most densely populated city in Argentina and has the highest GDP among all the provinces.
The meeting with President Macri consisted of a working breakfast wherein other Argentine national authorities also participated. Opportunities to increase bilateral trade, investments and cooperation between both nations were discussed by both leaders.
In September 2017 Argentina re-established an Embassy here in Singapore, how have opportunities grown since?
The journey thus far has been so good that it is hard to think of any negative experience we encountered. The reasons that led President Mauricio Macri to reopen the Embassy in Singapore were mainly two-fold:
First, it was unthinkable for a country that aims to re-assert herself into the world not to have a representation in a country like Singapore, which is the epitome of international order in terms of trade and investments.
Second, to take advantage of the opportunities that Singapore offers as a logistic hub for Argentine exports to the region, which are increasing by leaps and bounds in recent times.
Moreover, Singapore and Argentina are two complementary economies, thanks to Singapore’s expertise in advanced technology and Argentina’s experience in high-quality food and beverages produced under the highest standards of food safety. Because of this, every trade mission that we have organised for Argentine businessmen in Singapore or for Singapore businesses to travel to Argentina has yielded results beyond our expectations. We have been able to confirm Singapore companies’ eagerness to offer Argentine products to their local consumers, especially for chicken, beef, fish, wines and fruits.
In the near future, we plan to expand our promotional activities to include Argentine cuisine. Next year, we are expecting the visit of a number of very prestigious chefs from our country to present to Singapore foodies the secrets of our most traditional dishes.
Could you share the trade and investment figures between our two countries?
In 2017, the trade balance between the two countries reached US$173 million. For the period January-October 2018, the total bilateral trade stands at almost US$150 million.
Argentine exports accounted for approximately US$55 million, 11% higher compared to the same period in 2017. The main products exported by Argentina to Singapore are toothfish, chicken, beef, wine, whey, quebracho extract and fuel oils. With regard to Singapore exports to Argentina, they reached approx. US$89 million. The main products are bumpers and parts of vehicles, insecticides, batteries, parts for gas turbines and electrical machines.
As for investments, the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) of Singapore in Argentina was US$149 million in 2016. The main recipients of that FDI were the Logistic sector (key investor – PSA International), the Food sector (Olam International), the Tech sector (Temasek Holdings and GIC) and the Oil and Gas sector (Trafigura Group).
With the recent visit of Prime Minister Lee to Argentina, more opportunities are bound to emerge; which are the areas you see potential in?
After the meeting between President Macri and Prime Minister Lee, it became clear that the area to be explored further is that of investments. For this reason, both leaders committed to finalize two fundamental treaties during the first half of 2019: the BIT and DTA treaties.
Many perceive Argentina is far from Singapore. How do address this and attract more Singapore investors to do business with your country?
I would like to begin by saying that they should visit our country first and then decide whether or not it is a great place to bet on its future. The city of Buenos Aires, the Iguazu Falls, the Glaciers, Ushuaia, Mendoza and its wine trail, and, of course, not forgetting its 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are just some of the many incredible places and provincial economies to develop. Experiencing our country for themselves will give Singapore investors an idea of the immense potential and opportunities Argentina has to offer.
Then, I would recommend Singapore businessmen to test the competency level of our human resources. Many foreign companies have been pleasantly surprised at the level of our human capital even though Argentina is considered a developing country. Last but not least, they should seize this golden opportunity to be part of our country’s transformation. After all, with the structural and financial reforms that Argentina has implemented in recent times, it is becoming a very different economy.
Right now, as more reforms are being rolled out is when big opportunities arise. I am confident that Singapore businessmen and investors will see that. Our mission as an Embassy is to communicate this reality in the best manner and that is what we are doing every day.
Why should Singapore businesses consider Argentina as their next business partner?
Argentina has the third largest GDP in Latin America, the third highest GDP per capita (PPP), 43 million potential consumers and access to a market of 270 million people in Mercosur.
In terms of availability of natural resources, Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world with 53% of agricultural land. It has 3.1 million hectares of certified organic production, ranking second in the world behind Australia. It is also the top global exporter of soybean, corn, lemon, lithium, among others.
Argentina also holds the second largest shale gas and fourth largest shale oil reservoirs in the world, and has 750.000 Km2 of high potential mining areas with 340 projects at initial stage.
Finally, Argentina’s economy thrives on high quality human capital comprising an educated middle class and qualified labor force. Proof of this is that, within the Technological sector, four out of the seven South American unicorns were born in our country. Moreover, Argentina ranks #1 in Latin America’s Human Capital Index and #1 in Latin America for English literacy. I think that these are all very convincing numbers for a Singapore businessman or investor who is looking for a long term business partnership.
Please also share the highlights of various interactions between Singapore and Argentina, since the re-establishment of your Embassy in Singapore
Fortunately, there were many activities and results to highlight since the reopening of the Embassy. On the political side, apart from the reopening itself, the recent visit of Prime Minister Lee to Argentina and the two visits of the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Faurie are the most salient points.
In terms of trade and investments, the introduction of Malbec World Day in Singapore; the various delegations of Argentine exporters visiting Singapore -and vice versa- and the Argentine Investment Forum that we organized in August are worth mentioning among many other activities that have resulted in great opportunities to improve the bilateral exchange.
This is just the beginning. I believe that 2019 will be the year of consolidation of our political, economic and commercial ties. For that to happen, it will be crucial to finalize the Bilateral Investment Treaty, the Agreement to Avoid Double Taxation, to move forward with the Free Trade Agreement Mercosur-Singapore and to continue sharing our views and support in each of the international organizations in which both countries are members.