Biz Latin Hub’s Ollie Farr had the privilege of speaking with Argentina’s Ambassador to Australia, Hugo Gobbi.
Hugo discusses the economic symmetries Australia and Argentina share, the outlook and objectives for bilateral relationship development, and tips for commercial actors operating in these two powerful markets.
Australia-Argentina Trade Relations
Argentina and Australia have a long history of bilateral relations. What elements make this
relationship so strong?
Firstly, our two societies are deeply engaged in the defense of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Those shared values that underpin our relationship are another aspect which make it so strong.
Secondly, our relations are based on a common understanding of the international and multilateral system where we are both engaged in protecting UN principles and developing the global trade system. In sum, we have a common view on international affairs.
Thirdly, both nations share similar general features, such as population size, climate, large territories with small population, and are rich in natural resources. We are both in the southern hemisphere – far from the centers of world trade and commerce. This gives us both a similar view and also a common position in the international fore.
Another area which I think unites our societies is that both are multicultural which gives us a broad scope of similar interests.
Finally we both like coffee, we both like barbeques, and we both like sports – rugby, basketball, football, tennis, both nations have a polo tradition – so I think there is a sympathy bond there. Frequently, we have teams coming and going between us to compete.
How did your career lead you to the role of Argentinian Ambassador in Australia?
I am a career diplomat; I have been in the service for 35 years, so when they offered me the opportunity of becoming ambassador to Australia, I realized immediately that it was a great honor and a great challenge. A great challenge because there was so much to do!
The possibilities of increasing, deepening, and diversifying our bilateral relations are extensive. Australia is a very important player in the international arena with which Argentina has very strong coordination.
Which aspects of the relationship are you particularly aiming to build on as Ambassador?
We would very much like to enhance our operations in the scientific and technological fields. We have a deep and long cooperation, for example, in the nuclear energy sector with ANSTO (Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organization). Here, we are all working together to promote the peaceful use of energy and to export the technology and services we have developed with research reactors.
Both nations share a large standing in the agricultural sector – here we also have huge opportunities in technological cooperation and innovation. And it is our responsibility to increase the sharing knowledge with each other.
And of course we would like to enhance and deepen our multilateral cooperation in the international fora. Australia and Argentina worked closely together in the most recent G20 summit where we were both driven to get a positive result – something that was not expected. Most were skeptical of coming out with a declaration but somehow it was achieved. We coordinated intimately with Australia on the agenda and logistics so feel proud to have played our part. It was a big success and very important to have reached a consensus in what is a very difficult moment in international affairs.
We also want to increase the bilateral links between countries and political leaders, strengthen economic relations, increase bilateral trade, as well as investments and promote the negotiation between Mercosur trade organization, where of course Argentina plays an important role, and Australia.
Can you share with us the objectives of the Argentinian Embassy in Australia over the next two years?
One area in particular we would very much like to develop our cooperation is in the space field. Australia has just created a space agency which amounts a number of opportunities for cooperation. The business outcomes from space programs are very important. Most countries are eager to participate in the economic possibilities opened by that new frontier. I think we could do it much better with cooperation similar to we deed in the nuclear sector.
We’d also like to increase the bilateral flows in investment and trade and to continue to strengthen institutional ties and political linkages. We want to improve communication between government agencies and political institutions. Increasing our connectivity is another area we are trying to tackle.
Of course, building on our mining sector is always on our agenda and we would very much like to develop our mining capacity with cooperation from Australia. Argentina has great potential in mining and I think it is a great opportunity for investment, with institutional development and capacity building. With Argentina being somewhat less developed in this sector, we would encourage the expertise of Australia.
How do you see the future of Australia-Argentina trade cooperation?
I see it as very promising. Both countries have common interests in the multilateral trade system, we are always on the same side, we both want an open and free rules based multilateral trade system. We are both also looking to expand our bilateral links in the energy and technology sectors, areas which are developing rapidly. Both countries have sectors within their economies which could take influence from one another, Australia from Argentina and Argentina from Australia alike, I think there is great potential there.
Of course, a free trade agreement between Australia and the MERCOSUR would be of great help facilitate trade and investment relations.
How will technology, innovation and disruption influence these economies and their relations with each other?
There is a great potential to increase trade and cooperation in these areas. Technology is progressing an unprecedented pace. It is impossible to be certain to what extent it will change our future, from jobs to international relations. We have in the nuclear field developed strong cooperation, we have a base an example of what we can do together. In software and hardware as well as in education systems there are great opportunities. I feel the same can be said for the space field, as I mentioned where the possibilities are very great and Australia has to take advantage of them. A report published by Harvard Business Review made a reference to an independent study which showed that Argentinian professionals are ranked number 1 in the world in technology skills. Here also lies a great opportunity for Australian cooperation.
What advice would you offer to Argentinian businesses entering into the Australian market, and vice-versa?
Well I think people don’t realize how important for running a business human relations are. There must always be trust built between the parties involved.
Businesses must realize that we have two distinct cultures, two powerful languages and the meaningful communications we share with so many other nations. By accessing Australia, Argentinians are accessing the whole English language world and likewise with Australia, by accessing Argentina, the whole Spanish speaking world.
On top of this businesses must always consider the broader view of business. Of course for business it is essential to make sure the projects are profitable but there are also many positive externalities like personal cultural experience and developing human bonds. Those dimensions have huge impact in business activities. I think successful businessmen are the people that realize exactly that. Like I said, Argentina is a very rich country in human and natural resources, and likewise Australia. This demonstrates that there are a lot of opportunities to take advantage of.
In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges Australian businesses face in Argentina?
The ALABC (Australia-Latin America Business Council) made a poll asking Australian businessmen involved in Latin America, what the main difficulty in conducting business in there was and the resounding answer was the language barrier. Very few Australians speak either Spanish or Portuguese whereas there is certainly higher percentage of Latin Americans who speak English. I think that is the biggest challenge but also an opportunity to build capacity for Australian companies. They go to one country in Latin America and then they develop the capacity to work in the whole Spanish speaking world.
On that train of thought, I would say that Argentina has an advantage, we have a very large number of fluent English speakers in the country. It is one of the countries in Latin America with the highest proportion of fluent English speakers. I think that by speaking the language of the other part, you can strengthen and further enrich human relations. Business is built on understanding and trust.
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