Argentina's Macri raises taxes, axes ministries after peso plunge

President announces raft of 'emergency' austerity measures in a bid to tackle the country's worsening financial crisis.

    Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has announced emergency measures to control the slide of the country's currency, including new taxes on exports and cutting government ministries by half.

    The 59-year-old, who was elected in December 2015 on a pro-business platform, also said on Monday that his government would reinstate export taxes on agricultural products, backtracking on a major campaign promise.

    The austerity move comes three days after Argentina's Central Bank raised interest rates to 60 percent - the world's highest.

    Speaking in a televised address, Macri acknowledged that the country's economic crisis had become an "emergency" and that export taxes would be reintroduced to shore up the peso, which has lost more than half of its value against the dollar this year.

    "To cover what's missing during this transition ... we'll ask those who have more capacity to contribute," he said.

    "I'm referring to those who export in Argentina, that your contributions are greater.

    "In regard to our governing team, I've made the decision to reduce the number of ministries to less than half ... I've decided to reduce my cabinet even more so we can give the upcoming agenda a more focused response."

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    Nicolas Saldias, a researcher at the Washington, DC-based Wilson Center focusing on Argentine politics and economics, described the announced measures as "necessary" and "the best of all the worst options".

    "The country has run out of access to international credit markets because of the high interest rates they have to pay," he told Al Jazeera.

    Salidas noted that the highly controversial choice to bring back export taxes might have an adverse effect on the economy by lessening the willingness of businesses to sell abroad.

    He added, however, that Macri has few other potential sources of revenue and welcomed the government's "commitment to not reduce social spending" by focusing on competitive sectors of the economy that "can afford to pay more taxes for a limited period of time".

    IMF package

    Argentina, the third-largest economy in Latin America, currently has an unemployment rate of about nine percent.

    According to the World Bank, more than 28 percent of its some 43 million people live in poverty.

    During his speech, Macri also pledged to increase food plans for struggling Argentinians.

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    "These changes we're making to our team and with the advances we're making with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we will begin to overcome the crisis, while always, always taking care of those who need it the most," he said.

    In June, the IMF agreed to a three-year, $50bn relief package but on Monday Nicolas Dujovne, Argentina's treasury minister, travelled to Washington, DC to negotiate with the body for the funds to be released quicker.

    However, many Argentinians are wary of the IMF after its perceived role in the country's worst ever financial crisis, during 2001-2002, which left one out of every five people unemployed and thrust millions into poverty.

    The agreement sparked widespread protests across the country, with many blaming the IMF's free-market policies for contributing to the economy's collapse 17 years ago.

    A May survey of more than 1,000 people by Argentine pollsters D'Alessio Irol/Berensztein found that 75 percent of respondents felt seeking assistance from the IMF was problematic.

    The IMF loan has provoked outrage from Argentinians who blame the organisation for the country's worst ever financial crisis [Martin Acosta/Reuters]

    Struggling to make ends meet

    Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo, reporting from the capital, Buenos Aires, said the emergency loan may not be enough to reassure investors or the public.

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    "The president said that these were the most difficult days in his life since he was kidnapped many years ago," she said, referring to Macri's abduction in 1991.

    "For the government right now, the big priority is to give investors confidence that Argentina won't default again but on the streets the situation is completely different," added Bo, noting that more demonstrations were expected to take place.

    "The government had said that inflation was going to be between 15 and 20 percent [this year], but that figure is now expected to be between 30 and 35 percent, so there are lots of people who are worried," she said.

    However, Salidas said the measures show the government is attempting to soften the economic blow felt by Argentinians.

    "In terms of the average person, this is a budget that promises not to touch social spending," he said.

    "It is very important that [the government] has decided it's essential to ensure that poverty does not increase, or at least to try their best to ensure it does not increase significantly."

    After losing another 15 percent of its value against the dollar last week, the peso managed a modest recovery on Friday morning following a move by the government to pump almost $700m into the currency market.

    Additional reporting by Charlotte Mitchell: @charbrowmitch

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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