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Economy of Argentina

Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly educated population, a globally competitive agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. The move after the 2001-2002 crisis to a more flexible exchange rate regime, along with sustained global and regional growth, a boost in domestic aggregate demand via monetary, fiscal, and income distribution policies, and favorable international commodity prices and interest rate trends were catalytic factors in supporting 5 consecutive years of greater than 8% annual GDP growth between 2003 and 2007. That economic recovery enabled the government to accumulate substantial official reserves (over $51 billion as of late August 2010). The reserves, combined with the absence of fresh borrowing from the international capital markets, helped insulate the economy from external shocks. A higher tax burden, improved tax collection efforts, and the recovery's strong impact on tax revenues supported the government's successful efforts to maintain primary fiscal surpluses since 2003.

Global financial turmoil and rapid declines in world commodity prices and economic growth during 2008 and 2009 resulted in diminished domestic growth in 2008 and a mild recession in 2009. These factors as well as some changes in trade policy in late 2008 and in 2009 had an impact on foreign trade, with imports and exports falling 32% and 20% annually, respectively, in 2009. While the economic downturn was less severe in Argentina than elsewhere, the deterioration of both domestic and international demand complicated the fiscal situations of both the federal government and the provinces. The global economy’s current recovery is helping to ameliorate some of those pressures.

Official figures show that Argentine GDP reached U.S. $380 billion in 2010, approximately U.S. $9,400 per capita, with investment increasing an estimated 10% for the year and representing approximately 22% of GDP. Analysts estimate that 2010 GDP growth was 7.5%. Government of Argentina statistics showed unemployment was 9.7% in 2010. Poverty dropped in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2001-2002, after it reached a record high of over 50%. In 2010, the official poverty level was 12%. Some unofficial estimates suggest that unemployment and poverty levels may be higher.

Argentina's exchange rate policy is based on a managed float, with an average exchange rate of 3.89 pesos per dollar in 2010. The rate in early June 2011 was 4.10 pesos per dollar. According to market analysts, the peso's real exchange rate has been undervalued in previous years, which, when combined with high global commodity prices, helped lift export volumes and values to record levels. Argentina had a $1.82 billion trade surplus in early 2011.

Foreign trade was approximately 31% of GDP in 2009 (up from only 10% in 1990) and played an increasingly important role in Argentina's economic development. Exports totaled approximately 18% of GDP in 2009 (up from 15% in 2002), and key export markets included Brazil (18.78%), EU (17.7%), China (9.26%), U.S. (6.38%), and Chile (7.11%). Two-way trade in goods with the U.S. in 2009 totaled about $9.4 billion according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. Total two-way trade in services in 2009 was $5.1 billion (according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce). The production of grains, cattle, and other agricultural goods continues to be the backbone of Argentina's export economy. High-technology goods and services are emerging as significant export sectors.

Continuing Argentine arrears to international creditors and a large number of arbitration claims filed by foreign companies are legacies of the 2001-2002 economic crisis that remain to be resolved. Outstanding external debts included over $6.3 billion (not including interest and penalties) owed to official creditors according to Government of Argentina statistics, including about $500 million owed to the United States. From May to June 2010, the Government of Argentina offered a debt restructuring for private holders of defaulted bonds. Two-thirds of the private bondholders participated, leaving approximately $6 billion in private default claims still outstanding.

Nearly 500 U.S. companies are currently operating in Argentina, employing over 155,000 Argentine workers. U.S. investment in Argentina is concentrated in the manufacturing, information, and financial sectors.

GDP (2010): $380 billion.

Annual real growth rate (2010 est.): 7.5%.

Per capita GDP (2010 est.): $9,400.

Natural resources: Fertile plains (pampas); minerals--lead, zinc, tin, copper, iron, manganese, oil, and uranium.

Agriculture (8.5% of GDP; including agribusiness, about 58% of exports by value): Products--oilseeds and by-products, grains, livestock products.

Industry (31.6% of GDP): Types--food processing, oil refining, machinery and equipment, textiles, chemicals and petrochemicals.

Trade: Exports ($68.5 billion)--oilseed by-products, vegetable oils, cars, fuels, grains. Major markets--Brazil 18.78%; EU 17.7%; China 9.26%; U.S. 6.38%; Chile 7.11%. Imports ($56.44 billion)--machinery, vehicles and transport products, chemicals, petroleum and natural gas, plastics. Major suppliers (2009 est.)--Brazil 31.12%; U.S. 13.69%; China 10.26%; Germany 4.69%.

Geography of Argentina

Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Chile and Uruguay Geographic coordinates: 34 00 S, 64 00 W Map references: South America Area: total: 2,766,890 sq km land: 2,736,690 sq km water: 30,200 sq km Area-comparative: slightly less than three-tenths the size of the US Land boundaries: total: 9,665 km border countries: Bolivia 832 km, Brazil 1,224 km, Chile 5,150 km, Paraguay 1,880 km, Uruguay 579 km Coastline: 4,989 km Maritime claims: contiguous zone: 24 nm continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin exclusive economic zone: 200 nm territorial sea: 12 nm Climate: mostly temperate; arid in southeast; subantarctic in southwest Terrain: rich plains of the Pampas in northern half, flat to rolling plateau of Patagonia in south, rugged Andes along western border Elevation extremes: lowest point: Salinas Chicas -40 m (located on Peninsula Valdes) highest point: Cerro Aconcagua 6,962 m Natural resources: fertile plains of the pampas, lead, zinc, tin, copper, iron ore, manganese, petroleum, uranium Land use: arable land: 9% permanent crops: 1% permanent pastures: 52% forests and woodland: 19% other: 19% (1993 est.) Irrigated land: 17,000 sq km (1993 est.) Natural hazards: San Miguel de Tucuman and Mendoza areas in the Andes subject to earthquakes; pamperos are violent windstorms that can strike the Pampas and northeast; heavy flooding Environment-current issues: erosion results from inadequate flood controls and improper land use practices; irrigated soil degradation; desertification; air pollution in Buenos Aires and other major cities; water pollution in urban areas; rivers becoming polluted due to increased pesticide and fertilizer use Environment-international agreements: party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Marine Life Conservation Geography-note: second-largest country in South America (after Brazil); strategic location relative to sea lanes between South Atlantic and South Pacific Oceans (Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, Drake Passage)

Government of Argentina

Argentina's constitution of 1853, as revised in 1994, mandates a separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the national and provincial level. Each province also has its own constitution, roughly mirroring the structure of the national constitution. The president and vice president are directly elected to 4-year terms. Both are limited to two consecutive terms; they are allowed to stand for a third term or more after an interval of at least one term. The president appoints cabinet ministers, and the constitution grants the office considerable power, including authority to enact laws by presidential decree under conditions of "urgency and necessity" and the line-item veto.

Since 2001, senators have been directly elected, with each province and the Federal Capital represented by three senators. Senators serve 6-year terms. One-third of the Senate stands for re-election every 2 years. Members of the Chamber of Deputies are directly elected to 4-year terms. Voters elect half the members of the lower house every 2 years. Both houses are elected via a system of proportional representation. By decree, one-third of the candidates for both houses of Congress must be women. As a result, Argentina's female representation in Congress ranks among the world's highest, with representation comparable to European Union (EU) countries such as Austria and Germany.

The constitution establishes the judiciary as an independent government entity. The president appoints members of the Supreme Court with the consent of the Senate after a public vetting process. The president, on the recommendation of a magistrates' council, appoints other federal judges. The Supreme Court has the power to declare legislative acts unconstitutional.

Political Parties

The two largest traditional political parties are the Justicialist Party (PJ--also called Peronist), founded in 1945 by Juan Domingo Peron, and the Union Civica Radical (UCR), or Radical Civic Union, founded in 1891. New political forces and alliances tend to form during each election cycle. Notable examples in recent years include the Civic Coalition (CC) and the Republican Proposal (Propuesta Republicana, or PRO), both concentrated in the urban centers and working to build national party structures. PRO is mostly based in the city of Buenos Aires, where its leader, Mauricio Macri, won the 2007 mayoral election and won the most votes in the 2011 mayoral election's first round.

Historically, organized labor--largely tied to the Peronist Party--and the armed forces also have played significant roles in national life. However, the Argentine military's public standing suffered as a result of its perpetration of human rights abuses, economic mismanagement, and defeat by the United Kingdom during the period of military rule (1976-83). The Argentine military today is a volunteer force fully subordinate to civilian authority.

Principal Government Officials
President--Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Hector Timerman
Ambassador to the United States--Alfredo Chiaradia
Ambassador to the Organization of American States--Martin Gomez Bustillo (interim representative)
Ambassador to the United Nations--Jorge Arguello

Argentina maintains an embassy in the United States at 1600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20009; tel. (202) 238-6400; fax (202) 332-3171.

Government

Type: Republic.

Constitution: 1853; revised 1994.

Independence: 1816.

Branches: Executive--president, vice president, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral Congress (72-member Senate, 257-member Chamber of Deputies). Judicial--Supreme Court, federal and provincial trial courts.

Administrative subdivisions: 23 provinces and one autonomous district (Federal Capital).

Political parties: Peronist (Justicialist, PJ), Radical Civic Union (UCR), numerous smaller national and provincial parties.

Suffrage: Compulsory for adults aged 18-70; optional for those over 70.

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History of Argentina

Europeans arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solias visited what is now Argentina in 1516. Spain established a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580, although initial settlement was primarily overland from Peru. The Spanish further integrated Argentina into their empire by establishing the Vice Royalty of Rio de la Plata in 1776, and Buenos Aires became a flourishing port. Buenos Aires formally declared independence from Spain on July 9, 1816. Argentines revere Gen. Jose de San Martin, who campaigned in Argentina, Chile, and Peru as the hero of their national independence. Following the defeat of the Spanish, centralist and federationist groups waged a lengthy conflict between themselves to determine the future of the nation. National unity was established, and the constitution promulgated in 1853.

Two forces combined to create the modern Argentine nation in the late 19th century: the introduction of modern agricultural techniques and integration of Argentina into the world economy. Foreign investment and immigration from Europe aided this economic revolution. Investment, primarily British, came in such fields as railroads and ports. As in the United States, the migrants who worked to develop Argentina's resources--especially the western pampas--came from throughout Europe.

From 1880 to 1930 Argentina became one of the world's 10 wealthiest nations based on rapid expansion of agriculture and foreign investment in infrastructure. Conservative forces dominated Argentine politics until 1916, when their traditional rivals, the Radicals, won control of the government. The Radicals, with their emphasis on fair elections and democratic institutions, opened their doors to Argentina's rapidly expanding middle class as well as to groups previously excluded from power. The Argentine military forced aged Radical President Hipolito Yrigoyen from power in 1930 and ushered in another decade of Conservative rule. Using fraud and force when necessary, the governments of the 1930s attempted to contain the currents of economic and political change that eventually led to the ascendance of Juan Domingo Peron (b. 1897). New social and political forces were seeking political power, including a modern military and labor movements that emerged from the growing urban working class.

The military ousted Argentina's constitutional government in 1943. Peron, then an army colonel, was one of the coup's leaders, and he soon became the government's dominant figure as Minister of Labor. Elections carried him to the presidency in 1946. He aggressively pursued policies aimed empowering the working class and greatly expanded the number of unionized workers. In 1947, Peron announced the first 5-year plan based on the growth of industries he nationalized. He helped establish the powerful General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Peron's dynamic wife, Eva Duarte de Peron, known as Evita (1919-52), played a key role in developing support for her husband. Peron won reelection in 1952, but the military sent him into exile1955. In the 1950s and 1960s, military and civilian administrations traded power, trying, with limited success, to deal with diminished economic growth and continued social and labor demands. When military governments failed to revive the economy and suppress escalating terrorism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the way was open for Peron's return.

On March 11, 1973, Argentina held general elections for the first time in 10 years. Peron was prevented from running, but voters elected his stand-in, Dr. Hector Campora, as President. Peron's followers also commanded strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Campora resigned in July 1973, paving the way for new elections. Peron won a decisive victory and returned as President in October 1973 with his third wife, Maria Estela Isabel Martinez de Peron, as Vice President. During this period, extremists on the left and right carried out terrorist acts with a frequency that threatened public order. The government resorted to a number of emergency decrees, including the implementation of special executive authority to deal with violence. This allowed the government to imprison persons indefinitely without charge.

Peron died on July 1, 1974. His wife succeeded him in office, but a military coup removed her from office on March 24, 1976, and the armed forces formally exercised power through a junta composed of the three service commanders until December 10, 1983. The armed forces applied harsh measures against terrorists and many suspected of being their sympathizers. They restored basic order, but the human costs of what became known as "El Proceso," or the "Dirty War" were high. Conservative counts list between 10,000 and 30,000 persons as "disappeared" during the 1976-83 period. Serious economic problems, mounting charges of corruption, public revulsion in the face of human rights abuses and, finally, the country's 1982 defeat by the United Kingdom in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falklands/Malvinas Islands all combined to discredit the Argentine military regime. The junta lifted bans on political parties and gradually restored basic political liberties.

Democracy returned to Argentina in 1983, with Raul Alfonsin of the country's oldest political party, the Radical Civic Union (UCR), winning the presidency in elections that took place on October 30, 1983. He began a 6-year term of office on December 10, 1983. In 1985 and 1987, large turnouts for mid-term elections demonstrated continued public support for a strong and vigorous democratic system. The UCR-led government took steps to resolve some of the nation's most pressing problems, including accounting for those who disappeared during military rule, establishing civilian control of the armed forces, and consolidating democratic institutions. However, failure to resolve endemic economic problems, and an inability to maintain public confidence undermined the effectiveness of the Alfonsin government, which left office 6 months early after Justicialista Party (PJ) candidate Carlos Saul Menem won the 1989 presidential elections.

President Menem imposed peso-dollar parity (convertibility) in 1992 to break the back of hyperinflation and adopted far-reaching market-based policies. Menem's accomplishments included dismantling a web of protectionist trade and business regulations, and reversing a half-century of statism by implementing an ambitious privatization program. These reforms contributed to significant increases in investment and growth with stable prices through most of the 1990s. Unfortunately, widespread corruption in the administrations of President Menem and his successor President Fernando De la Rua, who won election in 1999 at the head of a UCR-led coalition of center and center-left parties known as the "Alianza", shook confidence and weakened the recovery. Also, while convertibility defeated inflation, its permanence undermined Argentina's export competitiveness and created chronic deficits in the current account of the balance of payments, which were financed by massive borrowing. The contagion effect of the Asian financial crisis of 1998 precipitated an outflow of capital that gradually mushroomed into a 4-year depression that culminated in a financial panic in November 2001. In December 2001, amidst bloody riots, President De la Rua resigned.

A legislative assembly on December 23, 2001, elected Adolfo Rodriguez Saa (PJ) to serve as President and called for general elections to choose a new president within 3 months. Rodriguez Saa announced immediately Argentina's default on $88 billion in debt (the largest sovereign debt default in history), but expressed his commitment to maintain the currency board and the peso's 1-to-1 peg to the dollar. Rodriguez Saa, however, was unable to rally support from within his own party for his temporary administration and this, combined with renewed violence in the Federal Capital, led to his resignation on December 30. Yet another legislative assembly elected Eduardo Duhalde (PJ) President on January 1, 2002 to complete the term of former President De la Rua. Duhalde assumed office in the midst of a widespread public rejection of the "political class" in Argentina. Duhalde--differentiating himself from his three predecessors--quickly abandoned the peso's 10-year-old link with the dollar, a move that was followed by a sharp currency depreciation and rising inflation. In the face of increasing poverty and continued social unrest, Duhalde moved to bolster the government's social programs and to contain inflation. He was able to stabilize the social situation, but advanced presidential elections by 6 months in order to pave the way for a president elected with a popular mandate.

In the first round of the presidential election on April 27, 2003, former President Carlos Menem (PJ) won 24.3% of the vote, Santa Cruz Governor Nestor Kirchner (PJ) won 22%, followed by RECREAR candidate Ricardo Lopez Murphy with 16.4% and Affirmation for an Egalitarian Republic (ARI) candidate Elisa Carrio with 14.2%. Menem withdrew from the May 25 runoff election after polls showed overwhelming support for Kirchner in the second round of elections. President Kirchner assumed the presidency on May 25, 2003. He took office following the immense social and economic upheaval stemming from the financial crisis caused by a failed currency convertibility regime. Despite widespread concern, democracy and democratic institutions survived the crisis, and Nestor Kirchner took firm control as President. After taking office, Kirchner focused on consolidating his political strength and alleviating social problems. He pushed for changes in the Supreme Court and military and undertook popular measures, such as raising government salaries, pensions, and the minimum wage. On October 23, 2005, President Kirchner, bolstered by Argentina's rapid economic growth and recovery from its 2001/2002 crisis, won a major victory in the midterm legislative elections, giving him a strengthened mandate and control of a legislative majority in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Many experts considered President Kirchner to be the most powerful Argentine president since democracy was restored in 1983.

Although Kirchner enjoyed approval ratings of over 60%, he announced in July 2007 that he would not seek reelection and declared his wife, then-Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, to be a candidate to succeed him. With the Peronist party under a trustee's control, President Kirchner smoothed the way for Fernández de Kirchner to compete under the Victory Front's (Frente para la Victoria, or FpV) banner in general elections in October. She won 45% of the vote and defeated her closest competitor, Elisa Carrió of the Civic Coalition, by 22.25 points. Thus, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner became the first Argentine woman elected to the presidency. "Cristina," as Argentines often refer to her, was sworn into office on December 10, 2007.

People of Argentina

Argentines are a fusion of diverse national and ethnic groups, with descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants predominant. Waves of immigrants from many European countries arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Syrian, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern immigrants number about 500,000 to 600,000, mainly in urban areas. Argentina's population is overwhelmingly Catholic, but it also has the largest Jewish population in Latin America, estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000. In recent years, there has been a substantial influx of immigrants from neighboring countries, particularly Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru. The indigenous population, estimated at 700,000, is concentrated in the provinces of the north, northwest, and south. Eighty percent of the population resides in cities or towns of more than 2,000, and over one-third lives in the greater Buenos Aires area.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Argentine(s).

Population (2011 est.): 41.770 million.

Annual population growth rate (2010 est.): 1.017%.

Ethnic groups: European 97%, mostly of Spanish and Italian descent; mestizo, Amerindian, or other nonwhite groups 3%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 92%, Protestant 2%, Jewish 2%, other 4%.

Language: Spanish.

Education: Compulsory until age 18. Adult literacy (2008)--98%.

Health: Infant mortality rate--10.81/1,000. Life expectancy (2011 est.)--76.95 years.

Work force (2009 est.): Industry and commerce--23%; agriculture--5%; services--72%.

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