May 20, 2013
With President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner now in Vietnam, no final summary of her three-nation Asian swing is possible but a progress report would be in order. The choice of countries is more intelligent than meets the eye with the presidential style not contributing to explaining their significance to the Argentine public. While most stress has been laid on the fact that two of the three (the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia) are oil majors potentially helping Argentina out of growing energy shortfalls, it is perhaps equally important that two of the three (Indonesia and Vietnam) are members of CIVET (Colombia, Egypt and Turkey being the other three countries in that acronym) — a quintet of emerging market middleweights widely tipped to be the next generation of pacesetters as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) slow down. More specifically, Southeast Asia has been in the forefront of replacing China as the world centre of low-cost manufacturing in recent years as both living standards and expectations soar in that fast-growing (economically, not demographically) giant — if 8.1 percent of all the world’s foreign direct investment (FDI) now gravitates to China, Southeast Asia’s share has surged to 7.6 percent. With a combined population of some 325 million, Indonesia and Vietnam offer Argentina’s food produce in particular far more than the saturated markets of Europe and North America — Indonesia alone is the world’s 4th most populous (and most populous Muslim) nation even if it still punches below its weight. As for the UAE, its importance speaks for itself with all the glitter of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, its admired and innovative airline and the 2018 World Cup prospects quite apart from oil.
Yet neither CFK’s rhetoric nor Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno’s trade mission has done much so far to put any of these points across. CFK seems to have problems finding a middle range between the global and the parochial which could help to build interregional and bilateral relationships — apparently dedicating too much time to reading (and retorting to) the domestic press, she has a multilateral patter better suited to audiences like the United Nations General Assembly than to more specific partners (who do not necessarily share her Malvinas obsession either).
It would be churlish for anybody deploring Argentina’s growing recent isolationism to criticize any presidential trip abroad but just as it takes more than suitcases to travel (words from an old French song), it takes more than travel to end this isolationism.