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September 19, 2014

#ForeignAffairs

Monday, August 11, 2014

Urgent or important?

By Andrés Federman
For The Herald

When last month the US Supreme Court refused to revise Judge Griesa’s ruling against Argentina and in favour of the holdouts/vultures, the decision threw this country’s government, media and politicians into a sort of “single-issue frenzy.” The frenzy is still here and — in all likelihood — will be part of Argentina’s daily agenda until the Griesa hurdle as been removed. And rightly so, because the risks involved, transcend the figure of US$1.3 billion demanded by Argentina’s unfriendly and rebellious creditor. So it is vitally important to remove the threat.

Argentina being Argentina, the “Griesa crisis” became politicized from day one. So much so, that opposition commentators tell their audiences that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government is actually trying to push the conflict to the limit, in order to recoup popular sympathy. Be that as it may, the threat is there, and its removal is vital.

The very bad news is that, once the Griesa factor is removed, nothing will have changed for Argentina in terms of foreign economic policies and strategies. The current debt crisis is a typical example of urgency getting in the way of addressing important issues. There will probably be congratulations and celebrations. Unfortunately there is the fear that the joy will hide all the important items of foreign economic policy which are not moving forward.

One of these problems is a languishing Mercosur, which is doing quite little to fulfil its mission of optimizing trade and investment within and between its member countries as well as optimizing the relations with other economic blocs like the EU. The 46th Mercosur Summit which took place at the end of July is a good example of what is going on. Or — much worse — of what is not going on. The public has been informed that one of the outcomes of the summit was the Mercosur’s support for Argentina’s position on the Griesa issue.

Perhaps it is time to face the fact that support statements which sound well are never lacking. Especially, if you do not mind predictability, they are quite readable and make good headlines. But — unfortunately — they are not great feats.

A young graduate from ISEN (the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs academy) should be able to negotiate this sort of statement with little effort. Especially because nobody pays much attention to the full text, and it is easy to play around with words in order to suit the political commitments both internal and external of those who subscribe to the document. The snag is that the document is likely to fail the acid test of effectiveness in terms of contribution towards solving the specific problem it is addressing.

Mercosur seems focused on a number of “institutional” issues like new memberships like Venezuela, or the expulsion ad re-admission of a country facing constitutional problems, which was the case of Paraguay. But not on addressing the nitty-gritty issues which affect jobs and trade in its member countries. The Paraguayans complain about Argentine protectionism, the Uruguayans have their own grievances and then there is always the looming problem of the trade between Argentina and Brazil. The list of shortcomings is obviously much longer. And they do not need large and costly summits to be sorted out. Instead, they need the dedicated work of specialists from the ministries that — in each country — deal with these problems.

So perhaps, it is time for regional governments to realize that, while emergencies like Griesa need urgent attention, there are important and very strategic issues that need hard work and a signal of commitment from political leaders showing that they can manage the emergencies like Griesa together with day to day progress of institutions like Mercosur.

@andresfederman

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