Facundo Gómez Minujín, President of the United States Chamber of Commerce in Argentina (Amcham Argentina), criticized President Alberto Fernández’s economic policies in the opening speech of the chamber’s annual summit. In his speech, he also lamented worsening rates of poverty, inflation, and educational outcomes.
“Poverty has climbed to 39.2%, meaning that 11.5 million people in our country can’t meet their basic needs,” Gómez Minujín told the audience of the event at the Alvear Icon hotel in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Puerto Madero. “In Argentina, most kids are poor. And most of the poor are under 30 years of age.”
He added that educational quality was “deteriorating,” stating that many children leave primary school without learning basic skills and that 46% do not understand written text. The figure, referring to the reading comprehension of children in third grade, came from a report published last week by the civil society organization Argentinos por la Educación (Argentines for Education).
Gómez Minujín, who is also Senior Country Officer of J.P. Morgan Argentina, hit out against foreign exchange controls, calling the cepo “a measure that has already proved to be unsuccessful.”
“Administered trade and the slow drip of inputs for our industries’ normal production are bringing the country to the edge of a new crisis, the tenth we’ve suffered since the return of democracy.” He added that a lack of short-term predictability is making long-term planning impossible, adding that business leaders were “navigating through a bank of fog.”
Argentina currently limits access to foreign currency for both businesses and individuals. The measure was brought in during former President Mauricio Macri’s administration in 2019 and has subsequently been tightened in the face of worsening reserve scarcity. The country’s net reserves are currently around US$1 billion negative, consultancies recently calculated.
After a spike in financial dollar exchange rates in late April, on May 1 Argentina’s National Securities Commission (CNV, by its Spanish initials) restricted access to financial dollars for individuals who have short-term loans and established that certain shareholders, managers, and employees of financial brokers can only buy and sell bonds in over-the-counter transactions, and not the market in which the Central Bank intervenes.
Referring to this year’s general elections, Gómez Minujín then said: “Amcham believes this year is a turning point for the country, in which all Argentines will have the opportunity to choose those representatives who assure us they have the ideal tools to solve our problems,” adding that the private sector should have a “leading” role.
He then set his sights on the role of the state. “We are convinced at Amcham that once the fiscal deficit is eliminated, the Central Bank and its board are given true independence, and excessive state spending is cut, the country will start to grow in a way that is consistent and beneficial for the whole population.” Among Argentina’s potential growth sectors, he included energy, mining, petrochemicals, agribusiness, electromobility, the knowledge economy, and tourism.
As part of Argentina’s deal with the International Monetary Fund, the country is required to cut its primary deficit to 1.9% in 2022, down from 2.5% in 2023. The country over-complied with the target last year, with a deficit of 2.4%, but missed this year’s first-quarter target as a severe drought decimated agricultural export income.
Gómez Minujín then called for open markets, trade integration, and for Argentina to court investment.
“As an essential requirement, we must […] redefine the role of the state, which has grown disproportionately from 20% of GDP to represent almost 40% of GDP in spending today,” he said.
Amcham’s annual summit gathers business leaders, public officials, and civil society representatives. This year, it is taking place as the US and Argentina celebrate 200 years of commercial relations.