Enter Argentina: Democratization, Trade, and Economic Expansion

By Menem, Carlos Saul | Harvard International Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Enter Argentina: Democratization, Trade, and Economic Expansion


Menem, Carlos Saul, Harvard International Review


CARLOS MENEM is President of Argentina.

In this era of industrialization, Argentina is making an effort to insert its economy into the international system, an endeavor which can only be compared to the previous effort made by our country over a century ago. Argentina initially incorporated itself into the world economy through agricultural and livestock exports to Europe and particularly Great Britain. Our country embarked on a process of economic development that by its first centennial rendered Argentina among the world's most prosperous nations.

Globalization of the economy, a phenomenon prompted by the technological and communications revolution, offers a formidable possibility of growth. Today, efforts to integrate Argentina into the changing global economy are accompanied by a firm determination to integrate the Argentine economy with those of its neighboring countries, especially Brazil and Chile through Mercosur. From here on, the course is set toward integration with the United States and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), both of which are engines of growth and investment. Simultaneously, we are focusing on the Asia-Pacific region, the largest emerging market of our time and the generator of a formidable expansion in the demand for food products.

This world scenario reflects an extensive transfer of resources from countries demanding foodstuffs to those producing them. Argentina is already the eighth largest producer in the world and, more significantly, the fifth largest exporter of food products.

The outcome of this effort towards internationalization can be seen in concrete terms. There has been a significant increase in productivity of the Argentine economy since the process began. Private consultants and our official sources agree in estimating that productivity has increased at a rate of 5.5 percent per year since 1990. Given that the total rise in productivity in the Asia-Pacific area is only 2.5 to 3 percent per year, this achievement is truly extraordinary.

Influenced by new structural conditions in the world economy, most developing countries have begun to pursue their national interests through competition for foreign investment. For this reason, the key to the success or failure of a country such as Argentina in the 1990s is its capacity to attract investment from the world's largest corporations. In Mercosur, including Chile as an associate member, the top 100 world corporations are already present, in concrete productive undertakings.

What differentiates our current effort toward economic expansion from that of the late nineteenth century is that today all of the Argentine provinces can actively share in the process of globalization and take advantage of the possibilities offered by the reconversion of the national economy. In recent years overall Argentine exports have grown less than the exports of the so-called regional economies. The provinces that remained outside of the first effort of economic integration are now able to attract direct foreign investment, allowing them to internationalize their economies independently of Buenos Aires. The profound transformation achieved in Argentina constitutes an authentic national project.

It should be added that this economic achievement, which we consider truly revolutionary, would not have been possible had Argentina not introduced equally substantial changes in its foreign policy, within the process of steadily ongoing institutional consolidation. Several decades of internal conflict that lasted into the early 1980s put the country in a position of profound political instability, which unhinged the economy and resulted in an ill-advised foreign policy that increasingly isolated us year after year. For some time, Argentina lost consciousness of its Western orientation and devised for itself a leading role in a Third World to which it had been historically alien.

Democratic Transformation

We are now in a position to affirm that the new and definitive Argentina was born in 1983. …

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