Interview: EU ambassador says ‘we’d be much better off’ with Mercosur deal

Whoever wins Argentina’s 2023 elections, the EU’s priorities are the green and digital transitions, according to Amador Sánchez Rico

Ambassador Amador Sánchez Rico. Image: provided by EU delegation in Argentina.

Amador Sánchez Rico is the European Union’s ambassador to Argentina. He has been based in Buenos Aires since 2021. At the recent Study in Europe fair, he spoke to the Herald about the EU’s priorities in Argentina. Chief among them are the “green transition” to carbon-neutral technologies, for which co-operation on lithium in Argentina will prove key, and the “digital transition” to new technologies, as well as the EU-Mercosur trade deal. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How does the European Union see the situation ahead of the presidential run-off?

With huge interest, but it’s not my role to go beyond that. We only hope that the next administration will help us, as the EU, to keep strengthening ties in terms of politics, trade, and cooperation as we have been doing so far. Hopefully, the new administration will keep doing that.

Have you met with Javier Milei’s team?

We have met with the teams of all the candidates.

Have any topics of concern arisen in your conversations with any of the candidates? 

No, I think it’s too early to reach any kind of conclusion. The idea is to continue working with the next administration on the EU’s priority areas, meaning the digital and the green transitions, and upholding human rights and multilateralism.

What is the EU working on regarding those topics in Argentina? 

We have different projects. On the digital transition, we are working hand in hand with Argentina, we have a good dialogue in terms of normative and legislative frameworks and data protection. Legislation in platforms, hate speech, fighting that, of course. Artificial intelligence. This is what we are working on with Argentina.

And then on the green transition, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the [European] Commission, was here. We signed a memorandum of understanding with Argentina concerning the green agenda, for instance, lithium and green hydrogen.

How do you see that progressing? What are the next steps for green hydrogen?

The idea is to invest in these sectors. This is very important for the EU. We are very committed to our green goal, which is becoming climate-neutral by 2050. This is the horizon. For that, we need to work with our main allies, and one of those is Argentina.

What about lithium?

Well, lithium is a strategic raw material. We know that Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile are the lithium triangle. They have some of the world’s largest reserves. We already have some EU companies present, but we would like to expand our presence, but always aiming to create added value in the chain. Helping to industrialize Argentina, and not leaving with the raw material.

You may also be interested in: Argentina’s lithium production to rise 50% in 2023

The EU has been discussing a free trade agreement with Mercosur. Is that likely to happen before the end of the year?

We have been dragging this deal out for too long. It’s a very strategic deal, not just from a commercial point of view, but also from a geopolitical point of view, and we are committed to moving forward with it before the end of the year. Hopefully this will be the case, now that there are technical discussions under the Brazilian presidency of Mercosur. We would like, before the end of the year, to send a political signal that we are ready for the ratification process.

I understand that a major sticking point involved an addendum relating to deforestation commitments.

It’s not just deforestation. These are environmental concerns from both sides, not just from the EU side. Our objective is not to reopen the whole agreement again. We’re working to fine-tune some aspects, some of them are really important, related to the environment and the fight against climate change. We are in the middle of technical discussions now, and hopefully, we will send a positive signal before the end of the year.

Paraguay is threatening to back out of the deal, right?

Well, Paraguay is getting the [Mercosur] presidency before the end of the year. We have taken note of that. But listen, let’s keep the focus on the technical discussions in order to move forward.

In which business sectors could Argentina and the EU grow together?

I would say that we’re very complementary on both sides, and I think we would be much better off with this agreement than without it. We are very complementary in terms of markets. Let’s focus on the things that we will gain on both sides.

How do you see the potential for cooperation between Argentina and the EU in terms of the knowledge economy? 

One of the main challenges that we have in Europe and also in this part of the world is the digital transition. Artificial intelligence. The EU proposes a middle path. It’s not the US model nor the Chinese model. We are, I would say, the EU model, and this is where we would like to strengthen ties with Argentina. 

What do you mean by that?

You have countries where the legislative framework is very tight. And in others, like the US, it’s very open. One is more state-oriented and the other is market and company, private sector-oriented, and the European Union is in the middle in that sense. 

The EU has put forward, for instance, the Digital Market Act and the Digital Service Act. These have been approved by the European Parliament.

Many thanks for your time!


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