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Italy's minibonds would either be illegal or useless - finance minister

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Italy's minibonds would either be illegal or useless - finance minister
FILE PHOTO: Italy's Economy Minister Giovanni Tria attends a eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium May 16, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo   -   Copyright  Francois Lenoir(Reuters)
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By Francesco Canepa

FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – It would be either illegal or useless for Italy to issue bonds to pay its suppliers as such notes would break European currency rules or add to the country’s massive government debt, Italian finance minister Giovanni Tria said on Saturday.

Speaking on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Japan, Tria sought to soothe fears about Italy’s public finances, which have unnerved investors and raised the threat of disciplinary action from the European Commission since an anti-austerity government took office a year ago.

Tria shot down the notion that the Italian state could pay its sizeable arrears with suppliers via small-denomination bearer bonds and dismissed talk of a debt restructuring or a wealth tax in the country.

The idea of issuing so-called mini-BOTS, named after Italy’s Treasury bills, was floated by the ruling League party and backed by parliament in a non-binding motion last week.

But Tria said these notes would either constitute new public debt, which would make Italy’s finances look even worse, or introduce a parallel currency, which is forbidden by European Union treaties regulating the euro.

“The economy ministry has already given a negative opinion,” Tria told Reuters and Italian news agency Ansa. “In one interpretation, the debt one, they are useless. In the other, they breach treaties and can’t be done,” he added.

Tria was echoing remarks made by the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi on Thursday.

Cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti of the League party said a day later mini-BOTS were “one of the possibilities” to help Italy clear its liabilities with suppliers.

Under EU rules, commercial arrears are not counted as public debt, which currently stands at around 130 percent of the size of the country’s economy.

Some analysts have started to speculate about a restructuring of Italy’s public debt, whereby investors would see their bonds replaced with others of lower value or longer maturity.

Others, including Dutch central bank governor Klaas Knot, have raised the idea of a wealth tax to help fill Italy’s budget deficit, which is seen at 2.5 percent this year by the European Commission.

Tria branded both “irresponsible” and said this year’s deficit will be contained by higher revenues and a lower-than-expected take-up for the government’s early-retirement and universal income schemes.

“As there are fewer requests than expected, the savings will allow to obtain a lower deficit,” Tria said.

“This will also essentially come from higher non-tax revenues as well as higher tax revenues.”

(Editing by Chris Gallagher & Kim Coghill)

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