Joint Communique Follow-Up Meeting: 19-20 December 2016

Positive discussions on Falklands-related issues with some progress on additional flights and fisheries and a signed agreement on the ICRC mandate for the identification of unknown Argentine soldiers buried in the Darwin cemetery. But likely to be Congressional resistance to any measure that requires amending legislation in Argentine Congress, where President Macri does not command a majority. 

Talks were convened in London on 19-20 December 2016 between the UK and Argentine Governments to follow up the commitments recorded in the Joint Communique signed in Buenos Aires on 13 September 2016 - [click here for Joint Communique text]. The UK side was led by Sir Alan Duncan, the FCO Minister for UK relations with Europe and the Americas: the Argentine delegation by the new Deputy Minister, Sr. Pedro Villagra Delgado. The Hon. Phyl Rendell and Mike Summers, Members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly (MLAs) attended as members of the UK delegation. 

A statement by the Falkland Islands Government (FIG), issued after the meeting, said that there had been "constructive dialogue" on S. Atlantic issues. There had been: 

* agreement on a process for setting up an additional air service to the Falkland Islands either from Brazil or Chile with a target launch date of October 2017 based on commercial viability. This would include a stopover in Argentina on the lines of the monthly stopover by the LATAM flight in Rio Gallegos. No location for this had been agreed at this early stage. 

* agreement on the importance of data exchange in relation to fish stocks in the South Atlantic, particularly on the migratory illex squid. The parties were optimistic that this could be put in place to cover the 2017 illex season. 

* agreement that further discussions would be held to see if there was a need to re-establish the South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC) and whether the parties could start a process leading to a regional fisheries management agreement for the SW Atlantic. 

At the end of the talks, the Ministers signed the mandate and project details agreed in Geneva on 9 December 2016 enabling the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 

to carry out the identification of unknown Argentine soldiers buried in the Darwin cemetery - see separate news item. The ICRC would visit the Falkland Islands again in January to make further planning arrangements. 

Comment 

On flights, the next step in the process is for contact to be made with the Governments of Brazil and Chile to identify airlines that might have an interest in setting up an additional route to the Falkland Islands, with a stopover in Argentina. Although no location for this has been agreed, Susana Malcorra, the Argentine Foreign Minister, has indicated that the most likely place for this might well be Comodoro Rivadavia. Despite hesitation from some Falkland Islanders, the Falkland Islands Chamber of Commerce has lent its strong backing to the proposal for an additional flight on economic grounds. 

There has been some fairly strident reaction from opposition sources in Argentina against the Joint Communique, particularly from Elisa Carrio, chair of the Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC). She was incensed that Congress had learned about the Joint Communique from the media and gave Susana Malcorra and Deputy Minister, Carlos Foradori, a hard time in subsequent Committee hearings. Carlos Foradori, who had signed the Joint Communique for the Argentine Government, lost his job to Villagra Delgado soon afterwards, possibly as a result. Elisa Carrio has since used the inauguration of the "Malvinas Observatory" made up of political party representatives and academic experts in Argentina, to warn the Argentine Government that any proposal to lift the restrictions on trade with the Falklands would have to come to Congress for approval - and she advised Susana Malcorra, who declined the invitation to attend the function, that she would be summoned by the FAC when Congress reconvenes in March. 

President Macri's administration has had to make it clear that the September Joint Communique was not a treaty or binding agreement but merely a press statement. Perhaps more interestingly, Susana Malcorra is reported to have linked the possibility of negotiating a free trade agreement with the UK after Brexit to some form of progress on Falkland Island issues. She reportedly said: "Our relationship with the UK has its special characteristics and we need to resolve some things before advancing a bilateral negotiation." Quite how to interpret this comment remains to be seen but Theresa May's Government is unlikely to accept any diminution of sovereignty or any such linkage.