Arnold & Porter has hired a top Latina lobbyist and Democratic strategist with deep ties to the powerful Congressional Hispanic Caucus for help with its million-dollar contracts with Argentina and Ecuador.
Cristina Antelo and her firm Ferox Strategies will provide “legislative and public policy services” including “government affairs representation before the federal government,” according to an engagement letter with Arnold & Porter dated Jan. 19. The contract is for a total of $110,000 for both accounts and runs from Jan. 19 through May 31.
Arnold & Porter signed a $1.932 million contract with Argentina’s Ministry of International Trade and Foreign Investment in May 2020 for help with a massive debt restructuring and other economic issues, including the elimination of tariffs on biodiesel exports imposed under the Donald Trump administration. And shortly after President Joe Biden‘s victory in November the firm signed a $900,000 agreement with Ecuador’s Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries to help negotiate a free trade deal.
Registered on both accounts are one of America’s most experienced and highest-ranking diplomats, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, and Raul Herrera, a former general counsel to the Inter-American Investment Corporation. Herrera signed the engagement letter with Antelo.
This is the first time Ferox — Latin for “fierce” — and Antelo register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The firm represents several major domestic clients however including the Walt Disney Company, Walmart and The Gap.
Antelo founded the company in November 2017 after working as a Wall Street investment banker and wealth management adviser. A native Spanish speaker, she is a founding member and former president of the Hispanic Lobbyists Association and a former interim CEO of the non-profit Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), which connects Hispanic members of Congress, business executives and advocacy and thought leaders to develop “the next generation of Latino leaders.”
Antelo remains on the institute’s advisory council alongside several Hispanic members of Congress, several of whom sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues.
She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Among Ferox’s former clients is the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The USHCC has worked with Cristina Antelo and Ferox Strategies for about three years on government affairs and policy strategy to support our bipartisan, pro-business agenda,” chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos said in an email. “We are big champions of free trade agreements in general. Most recently, we were advocates of the passage of the US, Mexico, Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA) in early 2020.”
Ferox’s engagement comes as both Argentina and Ecuador face tough headwinds with their lobbying priorities.
Argentina is seeking US support with an ongoing debt crisis, which was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and caused the country to default in May 2020. Latin America’s third-largest economy struck a deal with bondholders in August but is looking to Washington for help renegotiating about $44 billion in already-disbursed loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In November Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez scored the first call from a Latin American leader with President-elect Joe Biden following a lobbying push by Arnold & Porter, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported Tuesday. A mini diplomatic coup for Argentina, the call ended up being overshadowed by inaccurate comments from Foreign Minister Felipe Sola, who told reporters that Fernandez had asked Biden to lean in on the US delegate to the IMF’s executive board, Mark Rosen.
Argentina has also struggled to get the US Department of Commerce to rescind tariff on biodiesel imports that were imposed in 2017 over allegations of subsidies and dumping. The department decided to leave the duties in place in May 2020 following a lengthy review. The tariffs have effectively shut off access to the US market for Argentina, one of the world’s biggest exporters of the fuel, according to Reuters.
Ecuador also faces obstacles.
Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno first made the case for a free trade deal with the US during his historic meeting with Trump in February 2020, the first White House visit by an Ecuadorean leader in nearly two decades amid an improvement in ties following the departure of leftist leader Rafael Correa in 2017.
In a new lobbying filing, Arnold & Porter disclosed a meeting with then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Nov. 9. They discussed “relations between the Republic of Ecuador and the United States, including a potential bilateral trade agreement.”
The next day, the two countries discussed deepening economic ties at a meeting of the US-Ecuador Trade and Investment Council (TIC). According to a joint statement, the two countries discussed “a range of trade and investment-related issues, including intellectual property, environment, labor, and trade in agriculture products” and hoped to complete negotiations before the end of 2020.
But the Trump administration’s trade push caused a backlash from some congressional Democrats. After then-US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer signed a new protocol on trade rules and transparency with Minister of Production, Foreign Trade, Investment and Fisheries Ivan Ontaneda in Quito on Dec. 8, Democrats on the House Ways Means Committee raised the alarm over the pace of the talks and concerns over Ecuador’s record on the environmental and labor issues.
“These negotiations appear to have only recently been initiated, yet you concluded an agreement with your Ecuadorian counterparts yesterday, Dec. 8,” the lawmakers wrote in a Dec. 9 letter to Lighthizer. “Thus, nearly the whole negotiation, if not its entirety, was conducted after the US presidential election occurred and in less than two months.”
The letter went on to raise concerns about deforestation and harmful fishing practices, deficient workers rights, $5 billion in debt owed to China and other issues.
“The negotiations with Ecuador presented a clear opportunity, and leverage, to address these longstanding issues in some form,” the Ways and Means Democrats wrote. “A negotiation cannot simply neglect these critically important issues.”
This post was updated at 3:23 p.m. on Feb. 4 with comment from the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.