World News

IMF mission will visit Argentina to discuss ‘next steps’: IMF

By Andrea Shalal and Cassandra Garrison

WASHINGTON/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund will send another mission to Argentina to continue debt strategy talks and discuss “next steps,” an IMF spokesman said on Thursday, as the South American nation seeks to renegotiate its $57 billion financing package.

The IMF technical team will arrive in Buenos Aires next week for meetings with economy ministry officials about the government’s economic program, the spokesman said. The fund’s last mission to Argentina ended just over a week ago.

Julie Kozack, the IMF deputy director for the Western Hemisphere, and Luis Cubeddu, head of the IMF’s mission in Argentina, will lead the team, which is expected to stay until the end of next week.

“The meetings will also be an opportunity to continue to discuss next steps with the authorities,” the spokesman said.

The Latin American country, which has defaulted on debt obligations eight times, is facing tough negotiations with creditors and the IMF to restructure around $100 billion in debt that the Argentine government says it cannot pay unless given time to revive stalled economic growth.

The IMF gave Argentina a $57 billion standby financing agreement in 2018, but that program was agreed by the previous government and has been essentially on ice since the election.

Discussions between the IMF and Argentina are going well, said Gerry Rice, another IMF spokesman, earlier on Thursday.

Argentine Economy Minister Martin Guzman and his team met with IMF staff in Washington on Monday, Rice said, following a meeting with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in Riyadh during a meeting of G20 finance officials, where Guzman said Argentina would initiate Article IV consultations that could pave the way for a new IMF program.

“The discussions are going well and we expect that to continue in the coming days,” Rice told reporters at a regular IMF briefing, describing the current state of talks with Argentina’s new Peronist government as “very constructive.”

The last IMF mission to Argentina ended on Feb. 19. At that time, the fund said Argentina’s debt situation was unsustainable and urged Buenos Aires to draft a definitive plan to restore debt sustainability, including a “meaningful contribution from private creditors.”

Fitch Ratings said on Thursday Argentina needed significant debt relief to overcome its solvency and liquidity challenges, but said potential disagreements around the type and magnitude of debt relief needed, and how much fiscal tightening is realistic, could make it tough to reach consensus on a path forward by the end of March, as Argentinian authorities intend.

Atradius, a global credit insurer, agreed the timetable was highly ambitious especially since the process was moving so slowly, and said the risk of a disorderly debt default remained high.

In a report, Atradius said the new administration faced a difficult balancing act between its campaign pledges promising no more austerity measures, and investor demands for a clear macroeconomic plan to improve long-term sustainability.

It warned that a disorderly default would undermine efforts to revive the economy and rebuild confidence, and could return Argentina to the “pariah status” it had in international capital markets between 2001 and 2014.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington and Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Jorge Iorio in Buenos Aires; Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)