Theresa May bids for trade deal with historic visit to Argentina

Theresa May bids for trade deal with historic visit to Argentina

Britain and Argentina will look beyond the Falklands dispute today and agree to new trade links as Theresa May becomes the first British prime minister ever to visit Buenos Aires.

Mrs May will announce the creation of a trade envoy to Latin America’s third biggest economy at a formal meeting with President Macri. The move follows the announcement earlier this week of a new flight from Argentina to the Falkland Islands, the product of two years of negotiations.

The Argentine president is hosting world leaders including Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin at the tenth G20 summit today and tomorrow.

Mrs May hopes to use the stage to sell her Brexit deal to a sceptical Commons with a series of meetings with potential new trade partners over the two days.

The main focus will be on a planned meeting between the leaders of China and the US tomorrow, however, with world markets hoping that Mr Trump backs away from an all-out trade war in his meeting with Mr Xi.

 Mrs May is expected to meet Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, in the margins of the meeting. Although that means she will avoid a formal encounter with the man implicated in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the meeting is likely to be controversial. A British official defended Mrs May, saying it was important that engagement continued despite the investigation into the murder.

Mrs May said that she would tell world leaders that her Brexit agreement was a “good deal” for the global economy while reassuring existing partners.

“Our relationship with the EU will remain close,” she said. “A free-trade area with no tariffs, fees, charges, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks will protect jobs, including those that rely on integrated supply chains.”

Speaking at a session on trade at the summit the prime minister will say that Britain will be able to “play a full and active role on trade on the global stage, working with friends new and old”.

She will make clear that once the UK regains its individual seat on the World Trade Organisation next April, it will push for urgent reform of the body to open up digital trade and e-commerce and introduce greater transparency.

Today Mrs May will discuss ways in which to boost bilateral trade and investment with Mr Macri. Tensions between the two countries have eased since the centre-right president won the leadership in 2015 from populists who had brought the country close to economic collapse.

The leaders will talk about co-operation on shared priorities such as international security. They are expected to discuss the long-running dispute about the Falklands. It is not likely to dominate the talks but Mr Macri’s dwindling popularity — anti-government mobs gather each day beyond the presidential palace gates to protest austerity measures introduced by his administration — has some observers concerned about the diplomatic stance he will take towards the islands as he approaches a difficult election in October next year. On her arrival in Argentina Mrs May said Britain’s position on the sovereignty of the Falklands had not changed.

“What has changed in recent months is we have seen better relations with Argentina. I think the announcement we saw earlier this week of the extra flight from the Falklands through to South America is important.

“It is important for the Falklands and it is important in showing a different relationship developing. I am talking to President Macri about issues about trade and opportunities for trade, but our position on the sovereignty of the Falklands hasn’t changed and will not change.”

Successive Argentine governments have used the territorial dispute as a way to win back public favour — a populist gesture to unite the nation and appease the people. Mr Macri’s predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was a master of the tactic. Argentinians have long felt that the “Islas Malvinas” were illegally occupied by the British Empire in 1833.

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