Argentina to defend agricultural exports, boost Latin America with G20 presidency

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina will use its role as the first South American country to chair the G20 group of major economies to combat protectionism, as the agricultural-exporting region seeks to secure market access for its goods, officials said on Thursday.

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Both Argentina and Brazil, the only other G20 member on the continent, have transitioned to market-friendly governments in recent years. President Mauricio Macri cast Argentina’s presidency as a chance to mark the country’s rise as an “important place” in the world, and boost Latin America’s profile.

“We are going to put at the center of the G20 the aspirations and concerns of the developing region, which is keen for new opportunities,” Macri said at an event in capital Buenos Aires formally inaugurating Argentina’s G20 presidency.

The full-throated defense of globalization comes at a time when Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States and Britain’s pending exit from the European Union (EU) have raised questions about major economies’ commitment to free trade.

Protectionist measures in more developed countries could threaten the success of pro-trade agendas in South American countries whose economies depend on agricultural exports.

The trade bloc Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, is encountering resistance from European farmers as it seeks to boost beef exports as part of a trade deal with the EU it hopes to close by the end of the year.

Earlier this year, the United States slapped tariffs on imports of Argentine biodiesel, one of its major agricultural product exports.

“The G20 is an ideal place to continue reaffirming the benefits of greater trade ties, especially for countries like Argentina that want to export their agricultural products,” Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne said in a press conference following Macri’s speech.

Argentina will host more than a dozen events related to the G20 over the next year, culminating in a leaders’ summit in late November 2018.

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, the G20 has been the leading forum for world leaders to co-ordinate economic policy. The last presidency was held by Germany.

G20 summits often attract protests, and can be a target for attacks. Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena said Argentina had been preparing security plans for several months, with other countries’ co-operation.

“Argentina is in a condition to guarantee safety,” Pena said.

Reporting by Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien