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ECONOMY | 24-08-2023 21:19

Presidential frontrunners make case to business community

Milei and Bullrich vow not to take Argentina into BRICS as they outline economic programmes; Massa opts for scare tactics, warning of threat of libertarian frontrunner.

Argentina’s leading presidential candidates debated foreign policy, economic approaches and political definitions on Thursday as they pitched their post-primary campaigns to key members of the business community at the Council of the Americas symposium.

The immediate headlines were snatched by libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei and opposition coalition candidate Patricia Bullrich, both of whom indicated they would not take Argentina into the BRICS group of emerging market economies if elected in the October 22 presidential vote – and thus raining on the parade of President Alberto Fernández’s announcement earlier in the day.

 

Massa concerned by Milei

Economy Minister and Unión por la Patria presidential candidate Sergio Massa launched into the attack, questioning Milei’s proposals and arguing that the initiatives of La Libertad Avanza aim to convert Argentina into a "supplier of raw materials instead of an industrialised country."

“Imagine if on December 11 we break off with Mercosur and China, we will be breaking up our two most important markets,” he underlined.

Recently back from Washington, where he met up with the helm of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the government’s presidential candidate was a leading figure at a special session of the Council of the Americas in Chamber of Commerce offices where he defended public investment and blasted Milei’s proposal to dollarise the economy.

"Where are the dollars for dollarisation going to come from? Can anybody really believe that any risk fund would sign a confidentiality contract with a candidate to guarantee dollarisation? Please, I know you to be serious people who scratch themselves when they hear these things," the minister told his business audience.

Massa warned that "breaking relations with China would lose us a market of US$15 billion while breaking with Brazil and Mercosur would cost a further US$12 billion.”

He continued: “I don’t know how industrial activity can continue without importing intermediate goods from those countries."

The candidate said that he fancied his chances of making the run-off, pointing out: “I have no doubt that we will be having this discussion in both October and November."

 

Milei vows 180-degree shift

La Libertad Avanza presidential candidate Milei criticised the political class as a "caste," insistently questioning the concept of social justice as "robbery" when addressing the 20th edition of the Council of the Americas in its traditional Alvear Palace Hotel venue together with rival candidates.

"The origin of the decadence has been systemised by those we have defined as the model of the caste saying 'where there is a need there is right,' the problem lying in the needs being infinite and somebody having to pay for that right when resources are finite," diagnosed the libertarian deputy.

Milei gave the closing speech of the main event and received scant applause for his extended diatribe from the 100 or so businessmen present, who showed far more enthusiasm for Patricia Bullrich.

"We propose a genuine change of 180 degrees which multiplied by three gives 540 and everybody knows what that means," he said in an oblique reference to his alleged new love interest Fátima Florez, drawing his only applause.

"Why are we so afraid of the ideas of liberty? For a mere question of stochastic dominance when the only true option is ourselves. You can stay with the good-mannered caste or the bad-mannered caste and you will end up poor, miserable and ruined," he vociferated.

Milei also delivered his ‘greatest hits’: he further promised to push state reform on the basis of slashing public spending, taxation and regulations, as well as closing down the Central Bank and dollarising the economy.

The libertarian deputy further detailed his future Cabinet as limited to eight ministries: Economy, Foreign Relations, Human Capital, Interior, Infrastructure, Defence, Security and Justice with the novel portfolio of Human Capital merging health, education, welfare and labour.

 "We will change the outlook on social policy, ending the culture of handouts and creating free individuals who can live off the fruits of their labour," he detailed, highlighting that he aimed to disconnect the dependence of a sector of society on social plans. 

 

Bullrich offers… change and stability?

Juntos por el Cambio candidate Bullrich assured that should she become president, she would implement a series of sweeping economic measures as from December 10, 2023.

The PRO chair on leave underlined the need for "a rules-based capitalism" and promised to head "the most austere government in the memory of the Argentine Republic." 

On the road to the general elections on October 22, she fixed her first objective as the province of Santa Fe and the city of Rosario to combat drug-trafficking and violence. "We will bring structural order to change this Argentina of disorder and chaos," she underlined.

Bullrich also  remarked that her government would change the economic regime at root "without fearing those who get in our way," also questioning the regulations leading to an informal economy.

"We have had two decades of Kirchnerism with their model of power which seeks to stay put by presenting the choice as Peronism or national dissolution," she told her business audience.

The former security minister further revealed that on December 10 she would send new statutes to the Central Bank regulating the prohibition of currency controls, which she described as "an instrument of torture," also rejecting the printing of money on behalf of the state.

The on-leave PRO party leader also vowed to eliminate such microeconomic distortions as farm export duties, replacing them with "a system of credits with the money to be returned in four years."

Bullrich also aims at amending labour legislation, reducing social contributions and deregulating the economy while introducing "ordered shock [measures]" to end "school and transport strikes and pickets."

 

US Ambassador: 'It takes two to tango'

US Ambassador Marc Stanley this week stressed the need for Buenos Aires and Washington DC to build a relationship "based on trust" and called for both sides “to be committed.”

With a smile, the envoy then expanded on his theme with a popular phrase: "We want to have a relationship of trust with Argentina, but it takes two people to tango." 

In that vein, the diplomat added: "This requires an effort on both sides: our country has to make the effort and so does Argentina. Both sides are looking for a reliable partner. [Former US president] Bill Clinton once said that he liked people who liked him.”

Stanley's remarks were made during a panel event at the Council of the Americas symposium, at which he was accompanied by Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero. 

The presentation came minutes after President Alberto Fernández’s government announced Argentina's entry into the BRICS, the multilateral bloc made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

Stanley did not touch on the subject, but Cafiero did, declaring: "Argentina has a coherent, friendly, open and amicable foreign policy and needs fundamental mechanisms for its development.”

 

– TIMES/NA

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