United States ‘bullish’ on trade with Argentina, US official says

International Trade Under Secretary Marisa Lago highlighted clean energy as a major point of interest following a two-day trip

Marisa Lago, the United States Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, said she is “bullish” on opportunities for trade between Argentina and the U.S. following a two-day trip to the country. She met with business leaders and government officials, including Foreign Minister Diana Mondino. 

“I came with high expectations based on what I had read and I leave being even more bullish on the opportunities. There is room to grow,” Lago said in an exclusive interview with Ámbito and the Buenos Aires Herald. She focused on sectors connected to the energy transition, as it is a key area of interest for the Biden administration, she added. 

During the exchange, Lago spoke about the significance of Argentina’s lithium reserves, the possibilities afforded to Argentine companies by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — the U.S.’ signature climate legislation — as well as the possibility of collaborating on civil nuclear projects aimed at lowering carbon emissions. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What are your takeaways after meeting business leaders and government officials?

It reconfirmed the importance of my trip. We knew there were significant opportunities to enhance trade and investment between our two countries with the changes that were afoot. And we have observed some of these things are being well received. The prime example is probably the elimination of the import registration system [known in Spanish as SIRA], which really dragged down trade and didn’t yield any important benefits. Not only is it great news for companies from the U.S and the world, it also is a way of signaling a desire to be more open to two-way trade and investment. 

What is the United States’ goal in trying to expand trade with Latin America?

We learned through the pandemic of the importance of not being overly reliant on one country or even one region. So we’re very much looking to diversify our supply chain. As we look for countries where diversification makes sense, the Americas stand out, being our neighbors, and having such strong ties of history and trade. Also, having our ties of geography, we just see such upside opportunities. 

What sectors did you focus on during this trip?

If I had to summarize, it would be the clean energy transition and critical minerals. One of Argentina’s strengths in this regard is that there are so many sources of clean energy available. It’s not just wind. It’s not just solar. It’s not just hydro, right? We know that countries around the world have made commitments under the Paris Agreement. And in meeting those commitments, we believe that U.S. companies, with their cutting-edge technologies and solutions, can help other countries. I spread that message in my meetings with Argentine and U.S. businesses that are operating in the energy space. 

Marisa Lago, the United States Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, speaks with the Herald/Ambito

How does the United States envision cooperating with Argentina on lithium mining?

There is such a recognition of Argentina’s potential in this field. The fact that it can be the third largest exporter of lithium with less than a third of its reserves having been tapped, shows what the upside is. The International Energy Agency has forecast that lithium demand will grow 26-fold by 2050. That is a global demand signal, which presents an opportunity for Argentina. And I believe it presents an opportunity for the U.S. as well, because, again, we are an innovation economy. We have companies that are providing the services and products that can help Argentina capitalize upon this.  

Argentine companies cannot access IRA funding for clean energy projects because Argentina does not have a free trade agreement with the U.S. Is this something that could be discussed?

There’s a couple of ways of approaching this. The first is when you talk about the Inflation Reduction Act, that’s US$369 billion going towards the clean energy transition. That is good for the United States and the globe. We are sending a strong demand signal by the government’s investments. Regarding that particular type of agreement, I’ll leave that to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

The IRA investments are going to span technologies that you and I can’t even think of today. Technologies that even people in our universities aren’t thinking about. The innovation for which the United States is known is not going to be limited to within the U.S. These are going to be new solutions, new technologies, new approaches, which the U.S. will be looking to export to allies around the globe. So I again see Argentina as being able to participate.

President Milei has said he does not believe in climate change. Is the U.S. concerned about not seeing eye to eye on such a crucial issue?

I’ll leave the views on climate change to scientists and heads of state. We know some countries around the globe are focused on climate change as an ethical imperative. Others see it as a matter of meeting their Paris Agreement transitions. At the Department of Commerce, we look at it as an opportunity for economic growth and jobs. There are so many jobs to be harnessed as part of the energy transition, regardless of one’s politics. 

Argentina is currently building a project called CAREM, the world’s first small modular reactor (SMR). These will be in demand as helpful tools in the energy transition. Does the U.S. see room for collaboration on these kinds of nuclear projects?

I’m so glad you asked that question. In 2023 I had the privilege of leading the Commerce Department delegation to COP28 in Dubai, the largest ever to a climate summit. Although expectations were high, I’m not sure many people anticipated the commitment made by so many countries in that summit to triple their reliance on nuclear energy [22 countries including the U.S., Canada, the UK, and France pledged to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050 from 2020 levels]. That presents a very significant opportunity, because the U.S. has companies in this SMR space, and our country is looked to for having such a strong regulatory environment. We see opportunities to partner with countries that are looking to include civil nuclear SMRs into their mix and work with them.

All pictures by Mariano Fuchila


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