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ECONOMY | 12-12-2019 17:05

No date set for Argentine debt talks, IMF spokesman says

Argentina’s record bailout from the fund has been on hold for months, and even after President Alberto Fernández took office on Tuesday, it’s unclear when it might move forward.

The IMF is waiting for the details of the new Argentine government’s economic plans to review its US$56-billion credit line, its chief spokesman says.

“I don’t have anything on dates or planned meetings,” with Argentine officials over the loan, the International Monetary Fund’s Gerry Rice told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

Economy Minister Martín Guzmán had told the press Wednesday night that he had held a preliminary meeting with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva before taking office.

Argentina’s record bailout from the fund has been on hold for months, and even after President Alberto Fernández took office on Tuesday, it’s unclear when it might move forward.

The IMF spokesman also said that the new Argentine economy minister had met with its Georgieva before he was named to his post and that they discussed “broad objectives” of government’s plans.

Rice added that the IMF still needs more details from Argentina before talks make substantial progress.

“In order to conduct any debt sustainability analysis, we would first need information on the authority’s policy plans,” he said. The IMF wants to “better understand their plans and to discuss ways in which the fund can best help, if the new administration so desires.”

In July, the IMF said Argentina’s debt was “sustainable but not with a high probability.” Since then, bond prices and debt rollover rates have tanked as Fernández's election victory spooked markets on a possible return to populism. Guzmán himself made clear Wednesday that Argentina’s debt load is unsustainable.

Rice emphasised that any decision to potentially restructure Argentina’s debt would be entirely the government’s decision. Guzman said Wednesday he would seek to delay bond payments to private bondholders but didn’t provide specifics.

Rice said the IMF recognises that Fernández’s government just took over this week and may need time before IMF talks begin. In addition to no scheduled meetings with Fernández officials, Rice said he isn’t aware of any meeting of the IMF executive board before the end of the year to discuss Argentina.

Argentina received the record credit line in June 2018 as the previous government led by Mauricio Macri faced a currency crisis. Since then, the country’s recession has worsened, inflation is above 50 percent and the peso has plunged. Macri followed through with spending cuts in order to try to meet fiscal targets in the IMF program, which Fernández roundly criticised as a presidential candidate.

The IMF does back Fernández's plans to help shield vulnerable Argentines from the country’s economic crisis, Rice said.

“Given the increase in poverty levels in Argentina, we fully support the Fernández administration’s plans to bolster social protection measures,” Rice said.

– TIMES/BLOOMBERG

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