Argentina: The Growing Role in Foreign Affairs

The Growing Role in Foreign Affairs
Although foreign policy is the responsibility of the central government,
Argentine provinces have become increasingly active in international relations
and policy over the last few decades. This activism manifests itself
both in the form of formal, informal or ad hoc participation in the national
foreign policy making process and in direct international action.
This increasing activism is a result of local and global factors. When
Argentina returned to democracy in 1983, the renewed practice of federalism
seemed to promote decentralization. However, various issues such
as periods of hyper-inflation, a military rebellion and multiple labour
strikes deferred the substantial transformations that were later embraced
in the reformed National Constitution of 1994.
Constitutional reform in 1994 created the opportunity to rethink participation
in international relations and global forums. Article 124 of the
Constitution empowers provinces to create regions for economic and
social development and to sign international agreements. According to
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10 Eduardo Iglesias
Article 124, international agreements should not be incompatible with
national foreign policy or affect either the powers delegated to the federal
government or the public credit of the Nation, since the Argentine state as
a whole is considered to be responsible for every international agreement.
This reform raised a controversial and as yet unsolved question: to what
extent and how should the federal government control the action of the
provinces in the international arena so as to avoid contradictions and
incompatibilities between national foreign policy and provincial international
During the period of reform, many provinces began to include international
issues in their agenda, in particular in matters related to trade,
integration, and the use of natural resources. Their activism cannot be
fully understood without considering regionalization and globalization.
These forces often involve an unequal distribution of costs and benefits,
as well as development opportunities, between different parts of the
country. This effect created incentives for provinces to become involved
in issues relating to their own economic wellbeing.
It is not a coincidence that Article 124 addresses
both the establishment of regions and the ability
to sign international agreements. Both clauses
offer the possibility of leverage in international
issues. Provinces are grouped, as a whole, into
six regions: Noreste Argentino, Noroeste Argentino,
Nuevo Cuyo, Centro, Patagonia, Crecenea Litoral
and Comahue. Some of these, like Crecenea Litoral
and Nuevo Cuyo, existed before the constitutional
reform and include international issues in their
foundational treaties. Others, such as Region
Centro, had common institutions with competences over international
issues. The degree of involvement in international affairs varies, but the
common factor among the regions is the need to pool resources and gain
“critical mass” to advance joint initiatives, increase international contacts
and make demands on the central government.
Direct international intervention by Argentine provinces and regions
encompasses various policy areas. The management of natural resources,
like rivers, oil and gas basins, hydroelectric projects, eco-systems, etc.,
is one of them. Provincial authorities have reason to participate in negotiations
between the national government and neighbouring countries
over the exploitation of natural resources because they have ownership
of natural resources. The bi-national mining project of Pascua-Lama,
negotiated between Argentina and Chile with the direct involvement of
the Province of San Juan, is a good example of this.
A second major area is infrastructure. Infrastructure projects are
During the period
of reform, many
provinces began to
include international
issues in their
agenda, in particular
in matters related
to trade, integration,
and the use of
natural resources.
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Argentina 11
considered a fundamental tool for local and regional development,
especially for those regions distant from Buenos Aires. Those provinces
and regions have been asking the central government for cross-border
infrastructure developments that would allow cheaper and more direct
access to neighbouring countries. Building an earth transport matrix for
bi-oceanic corridors uniting the Atlantic (Argentina) with the Pacific
(Chile) is one of the top priorities. Another strategic aim, in particular for
the Northern Region, is building roads to Bolivia and Paraguay – both
partners in a macro-region of sub-national governments called Zona de
Integración Centro Oeste de América del Sur (ZICOSUR).
International trade policy is also a traditional area of concern. The
provinces have been struggling to have a say on general trade policy and
on specific international negotiations with varying degrees of success.
Overall, the more geographically-concentrated and horizontally-integrated
the economic sector at stake in an international negotiation, the more
provinces are able to contribute. This was the case in the sugar negotiations
in the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), in which the
Northern provinces had an active role.
Provinces’ direct involvement in trade is concentrated mainly in trade
promotion, such as participation in international fairs and the organization
of trade missions. In general, these activities are coordinated by
national agencies such as Fundación Exportar, the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Consejo Federal de Inversiones (CFI).
Although the Constitution assigns symmetrical status and authority
to the provinces, the provinces show different capabilities and varying
degrees of interest in conducting international relations. Three factors
explain this variation. The first is politics and the continued will of provincial
authorities to establish and maintain international ties. The second
factor is geopolitics and involves issues that mainly affect border
provinces. Argentina has 16 border provinces out of a total of 23. It
borders on five countries – four of them unitary and one federal. Such
geography puts complex matters like immigration, cross-border infrastructure
plans, security and sanitary issues, fishing, and shared jurisdiction
of rivers on the agendas of constituent units on both sides of the
border. The last factor is economics. Overall, there is sound evidence
which shows that the smaller and poorer the provinces, the less active they
are in international affairs because of less-developed institutional structures
and scarce material and human resources. There seems to be a
gap between the forceful public speeches and declarations by provincial
leaders pointing to the need for a more internationally-focused administration
and the reality of the sparse resources allocated to make this
happen. The working pattern seems to be, as a whole, that provinces
with strong political will, international borders and economic resources
show a more pronounced activism in international relations.
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