By Eliana Raszewski and Cassandra Garrison
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Alberto Fernandez, the main challenger to incumbent President Mauricio Macri in October elections, said on Thursday that if elected he would seek to “rework” Argentina’s huge financing deal with the International Monetary Fund, calling it “harmful.”
Fernandez, who together with running mate and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is leading in some polls, said in a statement he had discussed with IMF executive Alejandro Werner his “deep concern” over some aspects of the $56.3 billion deal negotiated by Macri in 2018.
“I conveyed to the IMF our willingness to rework the agreements without demanding more from our people,” Fernandez said.
His statement criticized both the deal and the Macri administration’s handling of the loan, the largest in IMF history. Cristina Fernandez, a political heavyweight running as vice president, was not present at the meeting with Werner.
“The objectives that were set at the time of granting the loan have been absolutely distorted,” Fernandez said.
“Public debt increased, as did inflation, unemployment and poverty, while GDP fell by 5.8% at the end of the first quarter of this year. It is more than evident how far Argentina is from starting to grow if this path is followed,” he added.
IMF officials are in Argentina carrying out the fourth review of the program, under which Macri has made sharp cuts in public spending and moves to bolster taxes with the goal of achieving a primary fiscal balance this year and a surplus in 2020.
An IMF spokesman called the meeting with Fernandez “productive” and said it was an opportunity to exchange views on Argentina’s economic prospects and “learn more about its economic policy priorities.”
Earlier this month, Fernandez accused the IMF of financing Macri’s campaign.
On Wednesday, he slammed the market-friendly policies of Macri, who was elected in late 2015 on promises of ending the heavy-handed government controls that the previous administration under Cristina Fernandez imposed on the economy.
Despite the warm welcome international markets gave Macri when he was elected, his performance on the economy has been panned by voters and dented his re-election chances.
Argentina has fallen back into a recession on Macri’s watch and poverty has risen, while its 12-month inflation rate is currently hovering over 57%.
Fernandez, who served as cabinet chief under Cristina Fernandez, said people should “stop trusting neo-liberal theories, and realize what happens when neo-liberals take over.”
The Ferndandez-Fernandez pair, who are not related, are considered a risk by some investors because of the former leader’s self-styled populist policies, which included currency controls and tax increases on farm exports while she was president between 2007 and 2015.
(Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; writing by Cassadra Garrison and Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Tom Brown)