U.K.'s Boris Johnson Seeks to Woo Latin America for Brexit Trade

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is on a mission to Latin America to sell Britain after Brexit as a global trading nation just waiting for its chance to break free of the European Union and strike new commercial deals.

He’s staging a five-day trip the region to charm the locals including officials in the government of Argentina, where the 1982 war with the U.K. over the Falkland Islands remains a highly sensitive subject.

“The U.K. is open for business,” Johnson said Sunday after he arrived in Buenos Aires from Peru. “I look forward to a new chapter in our relationship, and booming trade prospects, after the U.K. leaves the European Union.”

Johnson’s very public display of his global ambitions comes at a crunch moment in the Brexit process. British Prime Minister Theresa May last week persuaded hard-line Brexit supporters in her cabinet -- led by Johnson -- to swallow a compromise plan that would potentially keep the U.K. inside EU tariff rules for years.

Sensitive Issue

The measure is deemed necessary to stop a crisis over the sensitive issue of avoiding border checks at the frontier with Ireland from derailing the entire Brexit negotiations, which could force Britain out of the EU with no deal.

But Brexit supporters in May’s ruling Conservative party fear keeping the EU’s tariffs will stop the U.K. from being able to make the most of the opportunities for striking free-trade deals with other countries when it leaves.

British officials believe there’s potential for enhancing trade with countries such as Argentina, but the history of conflict over the Falklands is one obstacle that needs to be navigated. The issue put relations between the two countries in a deep freeze during the Argentine presidencies of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Kirchner between 2003 and 2015.

On his first day in Buenos Aires, Johnson laid a wreath alongside Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, in memory of those who died fighting on both sides in the Falkland Islands conflict.

“It is an honor to join Foreign Minister Faurie today, and to lay a wreath at the Monument to the Fallen, commemorating all those who died,” Johnson said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.