Given the similarities between millennium-era Argentina and today’s Greece, some wonder if a Greek default and currency exit might not be the worst option for Athens. However, Argentina’s “recovery” would not easily be replicated and the Argentine model should not be considered a blueprint for Greece.
Europe has much to learn from the Argentine default of 2001, but the soundest takeaways are often not the most obvious.
In 2001, Argentina suffered the proverbial “messy default.” To the tune of protesters banging pots and pans throughout the streets of Buenos Aires, the government was forced to disband the currency board that had pegged one peso to one U.S. dollar.
Many of the deepest fears forecasters share over a chaotic Grexit occurred in Argentina. The newly untethered peso plummeted to a quarter of its pegged value, representing massive losses for Argentines who owed debt in dollars. Political instability led to a revolving door in the Executive office. Confrontations in the streets left scores dead as Argentines famously chanted “Que se vayan todos!” (“Everybody out!”) at their government.
The United States announced on Monday that it was suspending trade benefits for Argentina under the Generalized System of Preferences, which waives import duties for select goods from developing countries. In 2011, the U.S. imported approximately $500 million worth of goods under the GSP program from Argentina. This sanction will mostly affect the wine, beef, sugar, and olive oil industries.
The decision came after years of wrangling over a 2005 ruling when the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes ruled against Argentina in a $300 million case involving two American companies, Azurix and Blueridge—a case that dates back to the Argentine debt default in 2002. Although the settlement was widely accepted by the international community, Argentina has refused to pay damages stemming from the case.
A working paper published by Buenos Aires-based Red Latinoamericana de Comercio Exterior in anticipation of the expect U.S. decision notes that “this sanction is effectively null in the context of the overall trade with the US. It only represents 14 percent of total sales to the U.S. and even a smaller .0007 percent when compared with worldwide Argentine exports.” Although this does not represent a big economic hit for the South American country, experts say that it still has important political consequences.