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As uncertainty looms, LatAm heads see regional integration as key

In a year characterized by hopes of a return to economic growth in Argentina and other countries in the region, the opening on April 6 of the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Buenos Aires was ironically disrupted by a general worker's strike which paralyzed the city, perhaps a metaphor of mixed signals in the current climate.

During panel discussions, however, speakers seemed to agree that the worst was over in terms of the region's economic troubles and that integration between the Latin American countries was key to moving forward.

Speaking in a plenary session, Argentina's President Mauricio Macri described his economic policies during his first 15 months of office as a cultural change towards market transparency in a country that had lost competitiveness and productivity. "We solved the default and the exchange market so that those who want to come to invest have the option to take back their money when they want, trusting that we will grow so much that they will always continue to reinvest," the president said.

Macri said "intelligent integration with the world" was the way to go, praising regional alliance Mercosur. Argentina is a part of the trade bloc along with Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and troubled Venezuela, who might be kicked out of the group because of its democratic crisis.

"With Mercosur, we welcome an opening and dialogue with the countries and blocs of the world. That's what will help us grow," Macri told the World Economic Forum adding that Argentina would be one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the next two decades.

In another panel, the Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said Mercosur was in talks with the Pacific Alliance, Latin America's other trade bloc, a partnership between Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. Malcorra's Peruvian counterpart, Ricardo Luna Mendoza, praised the Pacific Alliance. Luna said it has greatly stimulated economic growth and stock exchanges, as well as a free flow of finance between its participating nation states.

Malcorra also noted the project of Unasur, the union of South-American countries, was still on the table as another way to better integrate the region after a few years of uncertainty.

As politicians and business leaders gathered talks revolved around the potential outcomes of upcoming presidential elections in 2018 in much of the region — Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Cuba and Venezuela — all of which will be crucial to the political and economic balance of Latin America.

Looking outside the region, participants agreed the uncertainty of U.S. policy regarding trade, immigration and overall economic support, is also a question for concern. Guillermo Ortiz, BTG Pactual Group's chairman of its Mexico banking unit, said that Mexico's shock over the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, however, was quickly fading and that bilateral relations will most likely normalize soon. He also predicted the Brazil would probably surprise onlookers in the coming years with accelerating economic growth.