Brazil, Trump Head To-Do List for Argentina’s Incoming Foreign Minister

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -
Felipe Sola.

Argentina’s incoming foreign minister will face a sizable to-do list: navigating shifting political sands in Latin America, cementing ties with President Donald Trump, and easing a testy relationship between his new boss and top trade partner Brazil.

Felipe Sola, a 69-year-old Peronist with a background in farming, is expected to be confirmed on Friday as Argentina’s top diplomat in the Cabinet of President-elect Alberto Fernandez, a party spokesman told Reuters.

Sola’s spokesman declined to comment.

Seen as a pragmatic consensus builder within the diverse Peronist political faction at home, Sola now faces an international challenge: mending bridges between center-left Fernandez and Brazil’s far-right Jair Bolsonaro.

The leaders of Latin American’s first- and third-largest economies have been openly hostile to one another, a potential threat to trade ties worth $27 billion last year.

Bolsonaro recently called Fernandez and his supporters “leftwing bandits,” while the Argentine leader shot back that the Brazilian was a “racist.”

“Only time and pragmatism will prevent major damage,” said political scientist Andrés Malamud, adding that Argentina needed to diversify its trade partners to get out from Brazil’s shadow.

Sola, who has appeared frequently beside Fernandez in recent diplomatic meetings, is seen as having the flexibility needed. He has held various posts within Peronist governments since the late 1980s, many linked to the farming sector – the main engine of Argentina’s economy and exports.

As the international face of the new administration, Sola will also need to keep the United States onboard amid complex debt negotiations with creditors including the International Monetary Fund of over around $100 billion in sovereign debt.

“We are going to look for the best possible relationship with the United States,” Sola said in a recent interview with local radio station La Red, adding he would not allow “ideology” to jeopardize any international ties.

That may not be easy. Trump earlier this week said he would reimpose tariffs on Argentine and Brazilian steel and aluminum, citing their weak currencies.

“In a protectionist world, Argentina loses, because it has commodities to sell,” said political analyst Sergio Berensztein.

Regionally, Fernandez’s government will represent a shift to the left for Argentina, and the incoming administration has already aligned itself with left-leaning Latin American allies such as Mexico.

Sola is also known for occasional outbursts, which could test diplomatic ties. Last year, he slammed the then-energy secretary after a sharp rise in prices.