Argentina's new economy bill hikes taxes on farm exports, foreign assets

Argentina's new economy bill hikes taxes on farm exports, foreign assets

Argentina’s government is seeking higher taxes on agricultural exports and to tax foreign assets held abroad, the economy minister said on Tuesday.

The government wants to raise export taxes on wheat and corn to 15% from 12%, Economy Minister Martin Guzman told a news conference. The bill, dubbed by the government the “Social Solidarity and Production Reactivation” project, would also raise the tariff cap on soybean exports to 33% from 30%.

President Alberto Fernandez was elected in October with a mandate to end the painful fiscal cuts implemented by his predecessor, Mauricio Macri. Fernandez’s voters expect more state spending to help families struggling with low growth, rising poverty and rampant inflation.

“They are taking economic measures based on who elected them, taxing farmers and high income earners in order to increase social benefits,” said Gabriel Zelpo, director of local economic consultancy Seido.

The proposed tax increases come as the government gets set to restructure about $100 billion in debt obligations. It says the revamp of loans and bonds needs to be done by the end of March in order to keep the financial system functioning.

The government’s proposal, which was sent to Congress on Tuesday, seeks funds to bolster social spending the new administration grapples with annual inflation close to 55% and an economy that is expected to contract for a third straight year in 2020.

In addition to the modification of taxes to agricultural assets, the bill seeks to tax financial assets abroad. The purchase of foreign currencies would be taxed by 30%, Guzman said.

The present formula to increase Argentina’s pension payments and public service tariffs would also be suspended for 180 days until the government creates a new one, he said.

“All these measures are intended to be part of a comprehensive program. They are all interconnected. We are being very careful in solving all the imbalances,” Guzman said.

After Guzman’s announcement, Argentina’s country risk fell 118 basis points to 1,996 according to the JP Morgan Emerging Markets Bond Index Plus 11EMJ on Tuesday afternoon, signaling an initial positive reaction by markets. The price of over the counter government bonds rose 1.7%, traders said.

“It is a very clear message of sending a gesture to creditors that there is a will to collect, to prevent dollars from leaving in different ways,” economist Pablo Besmedrisnik of local consultancy Invenomic told Reuters.

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