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ECONOMY | 12-06-2024 23:06

Milei to meet IMF chief during Argentina’s push for new programme

President Javier Milei will meet face-to-face with the head of the International Monetary Fund in Italy this week as Argentina pushes for a new programme.

President Javier Milei will meet face-to-face with the head of the International Monetary Fund in Italy this week, with Argentina claiming it has cleared a key hurdle as it seeks fresh funds to eventually lift capital controls.

The libertarian leader’s talks Friday with Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit will take place a day after the Fund’s executive board votes on its latest review of the crisis-prone nation’s US$44-billion programme.

Milei’s government said Wednesday it was ending its policy of negative real interest rates on Treasury auctions, a strategy implemented during the administration’s first six months of trying to tame triple-digit annual inflation. Positive real rates from the Central Bank are a key demand of the Washington-based lender.

Economy Minister Luis Caputo trumpeted a sovereign debt auction Wednesday that featured a 4.25 percent interest rate on 90-day Treasury notes. With monthly inflation for May expected to come in under five percent in data due Thursday, Caputo declared victory. “The era of the negative real rates ended for us today,” he said at an event in Buenos Aires.

The Argentine Central Bank’s benchmark lending rate, however, stands at 40 percent — down from 133 percent when Milei took office in December, with another cut expected as soon as this week. Annual inflation is running at nearly 300 percent, so it remains to be seen if the Fund will agree with the government’s argument that real rates are now positive.    

Milei wants to begin negotiations on a new IMF programme in a bid to build up enough reserves to lift a web of currency controls that’s holding back investment in Argentina. The president has estimated that about US$15 billion would be required, though he indicated not all of that would need to come from the IMF. 

Negotiations with the IMF could take some time, Caputo said Tuesday at a Cato Institute event, declining to specify how long or how much money Argentina would request.

Thursday’s board vote would free up about US$800 million for debt repayments. In accordance with the latest review, Argentina’s Central Bank announced Wednesday that it has renewed a roughly US$5 billion portion of its currency swap line with the People’s Bank of China for another two years.

While in Italy, Milei will also hold bilateral talks with Emmanuel Macron. He’d originally planned to meet the French president in Paris after the G7 summit but backtracked, citing his signature reform package that is up for a vote Wednesday evening in Argentina’s opposition-controlled Senate.

The Argentine leader will deliver a speech at the G7 about artificial intelligence, Presidential Spokesman Manuel Adorni announced via text message Wednesday, along with the rest of his itinerary. Milei is also slated to meet Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who as summit host extended the invitation to the libertarian, as well as World Bank President Ajay Banga. 

Milei will then travel Saturday to Switzerland, where he’ll attend a conference on the war in Ukraine and hold a bilateral meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Back at home, his government is hoping to pass its so-called 'omnibus' bill and an accompanying fiscal package in a general vote with a razor-thin margin on Wednesday night. But many of its most important measures are hanging by a thread, with their fate to be determined in a chapter-by-chapter vote.

by Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg

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