Closed by President Alberto Fernández, the 57th colloquium of IDEA (Instituto para el Desarrollo Empresarial de la Argentina) attended by hundreds of top businessmen this week also drew words from Pope Francis among other outside interventions (including Economy Minister Martín Guzmán from the United States).
President Fernández, who began his speech almost an hour after it was scheduled, threw his business audience a bone by insisting that “there is no sustainable development without private investment,” but he also reproached them for the “incomprehensible” price increases in the last couple of months.
He further told them not to view labour as a cost but as an investment and insisted that real wages must be recovered after falling 20 percent in the last five years, calling for agreement between sectors while “abandoning insults.”
The Frente de Todos leader blamed Argentina’s current difficulties on both the coronavirus pandemic (”of which we are all survivors”) and the inherited debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with whom a rapid agreement was being sought, he said, “but never a bad agreement.” Fernández reiterated to business leaders that Argentina is “absolutely” committed to reaching a deal with the Fund.
The president (who closed his speech by presenting ex-deputy Gabriela Cerruti as his new spokesperson as from yesterday) also defended his party’s record on social plans, pointing out that there had been less than 200,000 when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (now his vice-president) left office in 2015 and that these had been multiplied by the Mauricio Macri administration since then.
This issue was also the theme of the papal intervention with the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio complaining that he had been misunderstood in his homeland as advocating subsidised poverty but subsidies could only be provisional and never replace the “dignity” of labour and the “noble vocation of the businessman.”
This year’s symposium broke new ground at various levels, not only trading in the traditional Mar del Plata venue for the riverside Costa Salguero centre in this city as from Wednesday (last year’s event was purely virtual in the midst of the pandemic) but also being headed by a woman: Paula Altavilla, country manager of Schneider Electric. Furthermore, it featured the first presence of a Kirchnerite president since this business huddle was boycotted during all three Kirchner presidencies between 2003 and 2015.
Guzmán concentrated on reassuring businessmen against any danger of devaluation despite the gap between official and parallel exchange rates. But concern about the latter was expressed by both sides of the political divide – by Macri’s last economy minister Hernán Lacunza and by Emmanuel Alvarez Agis, Economy deputy minister under Axel Kicillof (2013-2015).
Speaking of a “crisis of confidence” and “economic disarray” in her speech last Wednesday to open the symposium, Altavilla centred on this year’s main theme of job creation, which she described as vital for developing the country’s “enormous potential” and preventing the emigration of “so many of our children.” She deplored Argentina as only having 14 companies per 1,000 inhabitants, half the number of Brazil and a quarter of Chile.
Business talk in the corridors in between the speeches clustered around electoral uncertainty (not all businessmen welcomed the prospect of a weakened government), the chances of an IMF agreement any time soon and Argentina’s shaky relationship with a world also undergoing turbulence.
The new Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti’s three-month price freeze announced last Wednesday was the subject of intense anticipation before the event and considerable criticism afterwards with many businessmen seeing it as more of an imposition than an agreement.