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July 25, 2014
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Distance only means more common ground

Canadian Ambassador Gwyneth Kutz
By Tomás Brockenshire & Michael Soltys
Herald Staff

Departing envoy looks back with affection but also ahead with hope

Argentina is too complex and dynamic a country to describe in a few words, said outgoing Canadian Ambassador Gwyneth Kutz when asked by the Herald to summarize her four years here, but she is struck by the “strong partnerships” between two countries which are so similar and yet so different in many ways — partnerships at every level including the people-to-people. Travelling around the provinces, she is struck by how she has found everywhere people with a Canadian story to tell — be it family or business links, studies or travel, she said in an interview to mark Canada Day today.

But a top-down interview began with the big picture. Here she is broadly optimistic — even speaking in a week which she described as “tricky” with reference to the ongoing New York debt litigation.

“There’s been a number of very important steps that Argentina has taken over the last year to normalize its relationship with the international community and the international financial markets. So we’ve seen a very positive trendline in terms of resolving outstanding issues. This to us is extremely encouraging.”

Bilateral trade was already a respectable two billion dollars last year (with a heavy Argentine surplus) while Canadian investment in Argentina is almost twice that figure at US$3.4 billion in 2013 (Argentine investment in Canada less than one percent of that sum) — Ambassador Kutz sees plenty of scope for both to grow. Yet she argues that Argentina would also gain from less advantageous figures. Thus more imports would permit Canadian inputs which would upgrade Argentine industrial capacity and improve its chances of joining the global value chains which are the key to the future. She further described Canada as an attractive investment destination for Canadians with its “world-class cities” and “robust growth.”

But she also had a strong tip for Argentina’s future based on Canada’s own experience.

“Grow your way out of economic problems ... Canada has a very aggressive free trade strategy in the Americas — we would like to see it extend into the rest of South America.” She gave a list of mostly Pacific Latin American countries with which Canada already has free trade agreements, adding that there were “exploratory talks with Mercosur” and “incredible interest to see how negotiations between the EU and Mercosur conclude.” As a NAFTA member, Canada is, of course, a gateway to all North America. Although perhaps best known for its huge stake in Argentine mining (a sector which always thinks in the long term and creates thousands of jobs, she pointed out), Canada also has substantial investment in other sectors such as food and communications. the Herald then asked where Canada stood with the energy sector in general and Vaca Muerta shale — the talk of the town — in particular.

Kutz replied that while Argentina was on the lookout worldwide for oil majors, Canada’s companies were smaller but also more agile and thus better placed in some ways to help Argentina develop its potential.

“Have a look at how the juniors can help,” was her tip, pointing to a long history of oil and gas co-operation, especially in Neuquén with which her native province of Alberta is twinned. A delegation is coming out to Neuquén in September.

But there is a lot more to energy than hydrocarbons, she also pointed out. In nuclear technology CANDU has been working with Embalse for decades and hydro-electricity is also an area with plenty of overlap but Canada sees a great future in renewable energy resources — solar, wind, geo-thermal, etc.

The departing envoy did not want to move from economic issues without paying tribute to the highly active Argentine-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which organizes almost one event a week — with over 100 members (half of them local), it has formed four working groups: mining, energy, human resources and corporate social responsibility ... Beyond economic ties, human rights is one leading area where the two countries are on the same page — and certainly given priority by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on his visit here last month with his presence at the former ESMA Navy Mechanics School remembrance museum and the site of the AMIA Jewish community centre 1994 terrorist bombing. Both were apposite with a new human rights museum in Ottawa and new human rights legislation on the way in the Canadian capital while in the past year Canada has chaired the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, bringing it into frequent contact with Jewish organizations worldwide. Also co-operation in areas like gender equality, violence against women, etc.

The cultural, academic and scientific links are too numerous for anything more than a list. In scientific co-operation (strong links with CONICET) Kutz highlights marine biology with Québec scientists working off the Peninsula Valdés. As for culture, Cirque du Soleil, the National Film Board, Francophonie Verte (with the accent on the environment) and student exchanges head the list while Paraguay (which she has also covered along with Uruguay) is fascinated by Argentina’s bilingual experience.

As for sporting links, she points out that Toronto will be the venue of next year’s Pan-American Games with around a quarter of a million people expected — 10 Argentine projects (including Fuerza Bruta) have been pre-selected for this. Canada will also be hosting FIFA’s next Under-19 women’s soccer tournament — not quite the dimensions of Brazil’s World Cup, perhaps, but important for the future.

In conclusion, some final personal reflections on Argentina behind the headlines

“Argentines know how to live for the day. They have a high quality of life because they do focus on the value of the present, the value of friends, family. Something which I have found to be one of the best things about living in Argentina, the ability to enjoy life and to appreciate the moment. But I will take with me the value given to friendships and family that is so prevalent here. There is such a vast potential for Argentina and we’re all cheering for it to achieve it.”

@tbrockenshire

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