Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman is in the middle of a major diplomatic blunder through a baffling series of statements regarding a letter sent by the EU to his office last week, according to a report published in the Buenos Aires Herald.
The letter, signed by EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, expressed “serious concern” after President Cristina Fernández announced the expropriation of Repsol’s 51% shares in YPF last Monday.
According to Timerman, who arrived off a plane from Italy Monday morning, no letter had been received. Furthermore, continued the Foreign Minister “we are used to the European Union making announcements that later fail to materialize”.
However, this statement was later proved to be incorrect, as the letter had been delivered at the Argentine Foreign Ministry at midday on April 19, while Timerman was in Europe. The letter was also delivered to Industry Minister Débora Giorgi and Economy Minister Hérnan Lorenzino, neither of whom denied having received the letter.
Eventually the Foreign Ministry issued a correction, stating that a letter had been received, but only at midday Monday.
This again was revealed to be incorrect, as EU sources revealed to the Buenos Aires Herald that not only had the letter been delivered on Friday 19 at 12.25 pm, but that EU Ambassador Alfonso Diez Torres’s secretary had called following the delivery to confirm that the letter had been received.
As reported by the Buenos Aires media sources said that a copy of the letter was distributed to all nations participating in the G20 meeting in Washington DC, as well as a copy that was personally delivered to the Foreign Ministry.
Minister Lorenzino represented Argentina at the Washington meeting, and insisted at the meeting’s close that the issue had not been discussed.
“The high and increasing number of import-restricting measures implemented by the Argentine government in application of its discriminatory import-substitution policy is a cause of considerable concern,” wrote Commissioner De Gucht in the April 19 letter.
“You are certainly aware of the very serious legal considerations these measures raise from a World Trade Organization (WTO) perspective and the growing concern among WTO members affected by this policy, which is manifestly incompatible with WTO rules.”
Amid suggestions of frantic behind-the-scenes diplomacy between the Foreign Ministry and the EU embassy in Buenos Aires, in which Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain was entrusted with calming the waters, rather than the minister himself, Timerman announced on Monday that he would analyze the letter before determining how to respond.
Meanwhile, a Spanish government representative stated on Monday that the EU was considering future measures against Argentina after its Secretary of State for European Affairs, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, met with De Gucht in Brussels.
“The EU and particularly the commissioner (De Gucht) are studying the issue extremely carefully, in the knowledge of its political importance,” said the Spanish representative, adding that a proposed response would be defined “soon.”
In statements to the press, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo avoided referring to details about the proposed response, stating that it was important “not to rush” in defining a reaction that would “best favour” European interests as well as Argentines, “who are not to blame” for the government’s decision.
On Tuesday the expressed ‘astonishment’ and ‘surprise’ at Timerman’s attitude, who denied having received the communication sent by Commissioner De Gucht.
“The European Union is a bit surprised at Argentina for refusal to acknowledge the letter was received, especially since we have been given the confirmation of arrival from the Ministry,” European Commission Trade spokesman John Clancy indicated at the daily press briefing.