Former Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa has been sworn in Wednesday as Argentina's new Minister of Economy, Agriculture, and Production as the country seeks to regain some stability following the departure of Ministers Matías Kulfas and Martín Guzmán around a month ago.
Later in the day, the new superminister who now handles what up until less than a month ago were three offices, announced a series of measures to be implemented as of Thursday and are basically about maintaining a fiscal balance by keeping the exchange rate between the Argentine peso and the US dollar within foreseeable parameters and strengthening the Treasury's coffers.
We are facing a world that is moving between a war and a pandemic, and is experiencing unthinkable situations. To see countries such as Germany turning off the lights or burning firewood, or closing businesses because of energy, France turning off [the lighting of] its monuments, or Madrid turning off shop windows, was unthinkable a few years ago and today we are seeing it, Massa argued.
Our objective is to grow with inclusion and we came to work for that, he went on.
Massa outlined four basic proposals (1. Fiscal order; 2. Trade surplus; 3. Strengthening reserves; and 4. Development with inclusion) and insisted that he would honor Argentina's commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We have already had a first meeting with the Fund, he admitted.
The new minister also pledged to abide by the 2.5% target deficit set forth within the administration's budget.
Treasury Advances will not be used for the rest of the year, she pointed out, stressed that the freezing of the state plant is in force for all sectors of the centralized national public administration and stated that, regarding subsidies on public services, there are 4 million Argentine households that renounced that benefit.
And among the almost 10 million households that did ask [for a subsidy], we are going to promote consumption savings. We cannot continue with a scheme in which whoever spends the most gets the most subsidies, he stressed.
Massa also announced that the agribusiness, mining, and hydrocarbons sectors will be pivotal in the country's new economic plan, while the administration will also be tough on money laundering, by referring the suspected cases to Judiciary authorities in the United States, where the banks that handled many of these under-invoicing of exports and over-invoicing of imports are. Hence their jurisdiction.
The new minister also spoke of special wage adjustments for pensioners, who have suffered the most under the country's galloping inflation.
He also announced that the second section of the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline will be put out to tender and a program will be launched to train 70 thousand new programmers in the next 12 months.
The premise of his administration, Massa summarized, is four engines: investment, production, exports, and domestic market. He also emphasized that he will call on businessmen and unions to recover workers' income, while flatly ruling out a devaluation: The only thing that devaluation shocks produce is poverty, he assured.
President Alberto Fernández praised Massa for his capacity and courage to take up his challenging post. ”Let's join efforts to move forward; I am not only talking to my colleagues of the Frente de Todos (FdT), whose unity is essential for me and that is why I will continue working, but also to all Argentine men and women, Fernández said in a message aimed at businessmen and union leaders.
Fernández insisted that the current world scenario meant a unique opportunity for Argentina: Let us not let it pass us by,” he stressed.
The President also thanked Silvina Batakis, Daniel Scioli, and Julián Domínguez, who used to run the three separate ministries blended into one under Massa.
Massa has already announced the names of most of his aides: Former Production Minister (2002) and industrialist leader José Ignacio de Mendiguren will be Secretary of Production, adding to the several deja-vu moments the new cabinet reshuffle has brought. In 2002, Argentina was recovering from the 2001 crisis that led to the resignation of then-President Fernando de la Rua.
In 1989, Juan Carlos Pugliese left his seat as Lower House Speaker to take over as Economy Minister, when UCR President Raúl Alkkfonsín had lost his grip on the country and was also forced to resign the following month. Massa was the Lower House Speaker until Monday.
Massa also confirmed Marco Lavagna as head of the National Institute of Statistics and Census (Indec).