Boris Johnson to make first visit by British foreign secretary to Argentina for 25 years

Chris Baynes
The Independent
Boris Johnson is to visit Argentina, Peru and Chile to drum up post-Brexit trade: Reuteurs
Boris Johnson is to visit Argentina, Peru and Chile to drum up post-Brexit trade: Reuteurs

Boris Johnson is to make the first visit to Argentina by a British foreign secretary for 25 years.

He will lay a wreath commemorating the Falklands war during a five-day tour of Latin America, also taking in Peru and Chile, as a part of a drive to drum up post-Brexit trade.

The UK is looking to repair a relationship with Buenos Aires that was thrust into deep freeze by Argentine presidents Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner between 2003 and 2015.

The arrival of their successor Mauricio Macri has led Argentina’s government to dial down its rhetoric over the disputed islands and seek engagement with the wider world, including by hosting the G20 this year.

Mr Johnson will attend a meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Buenos Aires on Monday, becoming the first British foreign secretary to visit the country since Douglas Hurd in 1993.

Theresa May is also set to be the first prime minister since Tony Blair in 2001 to visit Argentina when she takes part in the leaders’ summit in November.

Before Buenos Aires, Mr Johnson will head to Lima to meet Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra. They will visit the Amazon jungle together on Saturday to view front line efforts in the battle against the illegal trade in wildlife.

The three South American countries on Mr Johnson’s itinerary are viewed as key targets for enhanced UK exports after Brexit, because of their support for free trade and their growing middle classes creating a market for British expertise in areas such as infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and professional services.

However, Argentina is unable to negotiate independent bilateral trade deals, as it is part of a trading bloc, Mercosur, with Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The UK currently provides only about one per cent of imports in each country – a figure which Downing Street believes should be higher. Peru and Chile already have free trade agreements with the EU, which Theresa May’s government hopes can be rolled over after Brexit.

During their Amazon jungle trip, Mr Johnson and President Vizcarra will see the work of an animal rescue centre as well as launching a UK-funded solar project providing electricity and drinking water for a remote Amazonian school.

The visit to Peru – the first by a British foreign secretary for more than 50 years – forms part of preparations for a major international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, hosted in London in October.

Britain is also using its experience from the 2012 London Olympics to support Peru’s preparations for next year’s Pan Am Games in Lima, with construction contracts linked to the sporting spectacle likely to attract bids from UK firms.

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said: “This will be my first visit to the region since becoming foreign secretary.

“Latin America is a vibrant and dynamic part of the world that works closely with the UK on a number of issues including trade, security, science, infrastructure and education, among others.

“I am looking forward to strengthening the UK’s relationship with countries in the region, as well as representing the UK at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting for important talks on climate change, the illegal wildlife trade and how to ensure girls across the world receive 12 years of quality education.”

As well as attending the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Mr Johnson is due to hold talks with President Macri and his foreign minister Jorge Faurie.

In Chile, he will meet president Sebastian Pinera and foreign minister Roberto Ampuero as well as visiting a British Council-funded project which aims to train young women in coding skills.

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