Argentine roundtable debates role of provinces in foreign relations

Argentine federal and provincial officials at Forum roundtable in Buenos Aires
on May 8: From left: Eduardo Iglesias (Country Coordinator), Federico Merke,
Valeria Iglesias, Edmundo Szterenlicht, Pedro Castillo, Eugenio Valenciano,
Beatriz Paglieri, Antonio Hernández Julia Pomares and Luciano Fabris.

How Argentine provinces participate in foreign policy decision-making was the topic of a Global Dialogue roundtable in Buenos Aires on May 8. Senior Argentine officials from federal and provincial governments joined academics in discussing this issue. The country roundtable was organized by Ambassador Eduardo Iglesias from the Argentine Council on International Relations as part of the Global Dialogue program of the Forum of Federations.

The first issue of discussion was the constitutional framework that exists in Argentina for constituent units to take part in foreign relations. Participants agreed that the 1994 reform of the federal constitution acknowledged changes in this direction already enacted by provincial constitutions. What provinces can do in terms of signing agreements with provincial and foreign governments was one of the main topics of discussion.

The debate turned towards the increasing participation of provinces in foreign relations. The exchange rate adopted after the economic crisis of 2001 reshaped Argentine patterns of economic development, boosting regional economies. As a consequence, the provinces enjoyed increased autonomy in negotiating agreements and doing business abroad. Another view that emerged from the discussions is that intergovernmental relations around foreign policy in Argentina are changing fast. Against this background, participants discussed the potential usefulness of enacting specific norms for the behaviour of provinces abroad. However, there was a consensus that the norms already in place are sufficient but that there is a need for sharing practices on this subject.

Interestingly, representatives from constituent units realized that they are facing an increased role of local governments and municipalities in foreign relations. The problems in coordination that arise between the national and provincial governments also take place between provincial and local governments. There is a growing involvement in foreign relations by the Argentine regions, such as the Northern provinces region. There are definitely new patterns emerging in intergovernmental relations.

Representatives from small provinces, always suspicious of Buenos Aires centralism, claimed that the federal government does not call for consultations when it is called upon to stake out a position in the international arena on a subject matter that falls within the provincese’ jurisdictions. Whether provinces play a key role in Mercosur negotiations was the subject of intense discussion among participants. The lack of effective mechanisms of coordination among federal and provincial governments emerged as the main challenge ahead. Participants also discussed the potential effectiveness of different initiatives such as visits of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the provinces or the provision of training courses to officials at the provincial level.

In Argentina today, the budget of the province of Buenos Aires for promoting exports is larger than that of the federal government. This fact highlighted the persistent unequal distribution of powers and capacities among provinces and its effects on foreign policy. Although the international activities of provinces are now largely accepted by the federal government, the role to be played by the federal government in coordinating actions and promoting products from smaller provinces is still important, perhaps even more so than before.

The Global Dialogue on Federalism is a joint program of the Forum of Federations and the International Association of Centers for Federal Studies. The program creates forums around the world through which experts exchange experiences, ideas and academic research to identify emerging challenges and to inspire new solutions.

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