Wednesday, July 17, 2024

WORLD | 16-01-2024 15:36

Milei to outline libertarian plan during foreign debut in Davos

Argentina's outrageous and outlandish president looks set to be one of the leading figures of this year’s World Economic Forum, which gathers over 100 government leaders, businesspeople and economists in the Swiss Alps.

Javier Milei will join the economic and political elite in Davos this week for his first trip abroad as president of a crisis-stricken Argentina – and his libertarian experiment is inciting international curiosity.

Milei will arrive at the Swiss ski resort on Tuesday and is due to speak the following day at the World Economic Forum. He is travelling on a commercial plane, in tune with his austerity politics, with a small retinue and won’t be there long.

“There are over 60 requests for bilateral meetings,” said the president before going on the journey. “Logistically, I can’t respond to such demand.”

His presidential office said the number of requests had topped 80.

“What Milei is seeking in Davos is to generate confidence in the international economic establishment. He's a figure that doesn’t inspire much confidence,” said Alejandro Frankel, professor of international politics at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín. 

“He’s looking to show himself as a reliable person and to present his economic programme as investment-friendly globally,” said the expert.

Milei has been internationally associated “with right-wing populism and fairly extremist ideas, such as dollarising the economy,” added Frankel. Given that, the president “is a big enigma that the rest of the leaders and figures from the global economy wish to decipher.”

He has only two confirmed meetings to date: on Wednesday he will meet UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron and with the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, a week after Argentina and the body reached a technical agreement to refloat the nation’s US$44-billion credit programme.

Argentina’s debt is the biggest a country has with the multilateral lender, a record matched by one of the highest inflation rates in the world (211 percent in 2023).

“We celebrate the interest this new government is generating among the powers, by players who understand we have once again embraced the path of freedom and respect for the capitalist system,” said Milei’s Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni on Monday.

Milei has garnered international attention as an “outsider” and for winning the election by promising a draconian cutback in expenditure. 

His slogan – “there’s no money” – has become a meme and a chorus. It helps him win support for his measures: he has suspended public works, has not renewed state employment contracts, has reduced government ministries by half, devalued the peso by over 50 percent, released the price of fuel, eliminated price controls, repealed the law governing rent and loosened import restrictions.

These decisions and his explosive personality have awakened the curiosity of businesspeople as tycoon Elon Musk, with whom he exchanges warm postings on the Tesla owner’s X social network.

Milei’s messaging as a candidate was abrupt: he said that the United States and Israel would be his biggest allies and that he would not do business with any “communist” nations, referring to Brazil and China, who are Argentina’s main trading partners.  Days after being inaugurated, Milei gave up the deal Argentina agreed to become part of the BRICS group (comprising China, Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil).

This decision “expresses an archaic and simplistic outlook of a bipolar world that no longer exists,” said Florencia Rubiolo, an expert in international relations at the Insight 21 study centre.

His “binary” outlook of foreign policy runs the risk of being “inefficient” as well, because it is risky to distance oneself from Brazil and China, said the expert. It is “striking” that he chooses Switzerland, and not Argentina’s neighbouring giant, as his first foreign destination.

However, according to Frankel, the libertarian leader wants to paint himself as a “slightly more cooperative” figure over the last few days, despite some foreign policy blunders.

Last week, relations with Beijing became tense after reports started circulating that Foreign Minister Diana Mondino had met with business representatives from Taiwan, a fact that was denied by the government. 
Ultimately, the minister and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wei met to assure the press that they were still friends. 

China considers Taiwan as part of its territory and its acknowledgement as a country by other nations is regularly grounds for the break of diplomatic relations.

“Milei’s foreign policy this first month has shown sheer lack of experience and knowledge, and it is noticeable in the case of Taiwan,” said Rubiolo.

He says the government is running on the basis of “trial and error.”



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