*Isabelle Kumar: Mauricio Macri is a man on a mission. But he has not got an easy task ahead. Vowing to bring his country back onto the world stage, turning the page on more than a decade of left-wing populist policy that saw his country ‘s economy tumble.
An ambitious reform programme is beginning to bear fruit but there’s a long and potentially rocky path ahead.
To discuss this I am delighted to be joined by the president of Argentina Mauricio Macri, here at the Davos World Economic Forum.*
Kumar: President Macri, thank you for joining us on the Global Conversation.
Macri: Thank you for the invitation. It’s such a beautiful view.
Kumar: You are here in Davos. Argentina is clearly open for business. Your country is still suffering from uncertainty, potential volatility. But what is your pitch, here, when you are meeting potential investors?
Macri: We are working hard and have achieved incredible results in only two years. Results that have been recognised by nearly every government around the world. We are getting rid of populism, avoiding an economic crisis, inside the democratic system. Something that has never happened before in Argentina. And the country is growing, it is going to grow for a second year, something that has not happened since 2010; We are reducing inflation …
Kumar: But inflation is difficult to tame. Back in July 2016 it stood at a staggering 40 per cent. Now you have managed to bring that down. You have had to revise your figures back upwards. But is this something that Argentinians are going to have to live with in the medium to long term?
Macri: No No. We can’t live with inflation. Because inflation is related to poverty. Inflation attacks workers, poorer people and inflation works against productivity, against competitiveness and that destroys employees. We need to create employment and we are working on that. We are going to achieve one-digit inflation by the end of next year. That’s the goal what we are looking for. And that is something crucial to keep up the incredible amount of investment that we are receiving.
Kumar: As you implement an ambitious reform programme and you very recently managed to push through pension reform, which was one of the big bug bears. Your critics will say you are going that on the backs of poor people. And that pension reform did spark …
Macri: .,no.. that’s not true
Kumar: … did spark some clashes …
Kumar: … some unrest in the country
Macri: Obviously reforms create reactions. But every reform that I am leading in the country is focused on reducing poverty, is focused on creating jobs.
Kumar: Your popularity has dipped slightly, hasn’t it?
Macri: It was 60 per cent, now it is a bit over 50 per cent. That’s a lot of support. I am quite optimistic and after this visit to Davos, much more optimistic. Everybody who has received us say they want to bet on Argentina, we want to invest in Argentina, so let’s do it, let’s do it.
Kumar: But you are also enthusiastic about the prospects of a EU-Mercosur trade deal, which obviously Argentina is a part of. But it’s getting sticky, isn’t it. How do you think this is going to progress. It seems to be running into difficulty, doesn’t it?
Macri: It’s getting sticky, yes. These negotiations, I am not so used to them, because I am quite new to politics … it takes so much time. But we are quite close…
Kumar: So what’s holding it back? What are the major problems holding it back?
Macri: The quotas. The quotas for the beef, for the bio-ethanol, for the auto industry. Three issues, I think we are quite close.
Kumar: Argentina, as you have said, has sparked a lot of interest internationally. Interestingly, though, one very prominent Argentinian is staying away from your country and here I am thinking about the Pope.
He has had some six trips to Latin America. He has not been back to his home country. Some people will say he does not want to be aligned with your austerity programme.
Macri: Not at all. I have spoken about that many times with the Pope and he understood and he is backing an Argentina putting in value again the culture of work, transparency, strong institutions, a federal country. And obviously he is always looking for the poor. I am sure that he is quite comfortable with what we are doing. It’s all part of our program.
Kumar: You are spearheading a battle against corruption. Now the former president is Cristina Kirchner is charged with corruption. Now she charges you, she is accusing you, that you are motivated, that it is a politically motivated witch hunt. What’s your response to that?
Macri: That’s not true. That’s a lie. I am working hard to have an independent justice, like Brazil showed in the last years. Argentina has improved a lot and we have much work to be done. And she has to face the charges and she has to explain and the justice will decide.
Kumar: Donald Trump is in Davos. He is bringing with him a message of protectionism. Which seems very opposed to your own message of opening up. What kind of impact do you think this is going to have?
Macri: In terms of what protectionism means, everything is relative. If you start with Argentina that has been completely isolated, what protectionism means for the States is quite an open scenario. I think that he is trying. We need to wait and see how he is going to finish all these discussions.
Kumar: What do you make of him as a man?
Macri; Very hard negotiator, great golfer, and hard negotiator.
Kumar: Is there truth in the fact that he broke your golf clubs; that is written in one of the autobiographies?
Macri: No, no, he was really angry the first times I beat him. But then he started winning and things went more smoothly.
Kumar: Did you let him win?
Macri: Well, that may be true.
Kumar: Let’s bring this back to Argentina to finish off our interview. I want you to project, 10 years from now. Describe your country to me.
Macri: Argentina will be one of the most booming countries around the world, developing renewables in terms of new energy, doubling food production and receiving 10 million more tourists. It’s an amazing, amazing country.
Kumar: Thank you so much for giving us your time. It’s been great to meet you.