September 20, 2019
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Focus is on Macri's goals, Argentina's incoming finance minister says

 Argentine President Mauricio Macri. EFE-EPA/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/File

Argentine President Mauricio Macri. EFE-EPA/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/File

Buenos Aires, Aug 19 (efe-epa).- Incoming Argentine Finance Minister Hernan Lacunza said Monday that he could not discuss the details of his meeting with President Mauricio Macri and other high-level officials, but he said he planned to meet with his own team to work on the "priorities laid out by the" head of state.

Lacunza said after meeting with Macri and his advisers at the president's residence that he would officially take office on Tuesday, at which time he would inform the public of the latest moves by the administration in the economic policy area.

"I'm not going to make any announcements ... Today, I was with the president and his team, who told me the priorities on the agenda for the next few months. Now, I'm going to meet with my team, we also worked yesterday on these priorities that the president said we should work on," Lacunza said.

This was the incoming finance minister's first appearance before the media since being named over the weekend to take over the portfolio from Nicolas Dujovne, who advised Macri in his resignation letter that a "significant overhaul" was needed in the economic policy area.

Monday's meeting was originally supposed to be just a get-together between Lacunza and Macri, but several other officials participated.

Among the officials in attendance were Cabinet chief Marcos Peña; Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio; Labor and Production Minister Dante Sica; Central Bank chairman Guido Sandleris; Buenos Aires province Gov. Maria Eugenia Vidal; and Buenos Aires Chief of Government Horacio Rodriguez.

Lacunza told reporters that he met on Sunday with Dujovne to discuss the transition process and with Sandleris, who reviewed "the state of public finances" with him.

Macri said in a Twitter post on Sunday that Lacunza, who holds a degree in economics, "is the right person" to replace Dujovne, who resigned on Saturday.

"I asked Hernan Lacunza to run the Finance Ministry. Until today, he was a minister for the province of Buenos Aires, where he did a great job. His skill and career are widely recognized. I have confidence that he is the right person for this next stage," the president tweeted.

Before assuming his post in Buenos Aires province's government, Lacunza was general manager of the Central Bank and previously held a similar job at Banco Ciudad.

Dujovne submitted his resignation to the president following a week of turmoil in the financial markets in the wake of the governing party's poor showing in the Aug. 11 primaries.

The former minister had not appeared in public since Aug. 12, when Argentina's latest financial crisis started, causing the peso to plunge in value and the stock market to post large losses.

Dujovne had been finance minister since 2017, a year in which the gross domestic product (GDP) grew 2.7 percent.

After the recession started in April 2018, Dujovne negotiated a controversial three-year, $56.3 billion stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Under the terms of the agreement, the Macri administration had to impose sharp budget cuts.

The administration has not achieved the main goals set in the agreement - jump-starting the economy, reducing inflation and creating jobs.

Argentina's GDP fell 2.5 percent in 2018, according to the latest official figures available, and the economy contracted by 3.1 percent on a year-on-year basis in the January-May 2019 period.

The recession has been accompanied by a 47 percent inflation rate in 2018 and an inflation rate of 25.1 percent during the first seven months of this year.

Economists warn that the inflation rate could hit the 50 percent level this year due to the recent market instability.

In the Aug. 11 primaries, Peronist presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez finished 15 percentage points ahead of Macri.

Fernandez and vice presidential running mate Sen. Cristina Fernandez, who governed Argentina from 2007 to 2015, got 47 percent of the vote on the ticket of the Peronist Frente de Todos.

The 60-year-old Macri, who headed the ticket of the Juntos por el Cambio party, received just 32 percent of the vote, suffering a serious blow to his re-election chances.

Argentina will hold a general election on Oct. 27, with the next president being sworn in on Dec. 10 for a four-year term. EFE

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