Argentina’s congress approves $45bn debt deal with IMF

Argentina’s congress has voted in favour of a deal to restructure $45bn in debt with the IMF from its record 2018 bailout, days before a deadline to repay $2.8bn to the Washington-based lender from the country’s fast-dwindling reserves.

After 12 hours of debate the leftwing Peronist government secured a simple majority in the early hours on Friday, with 202 of 257 votes in support of a 30-month extended fund facility arrangement outlined this month

“It is important to have this solution to avoid a catastrophe,” said Sergio Massa, president of the lower house, ahead of the session.

The Argentine economy is in dire straits. Annual inflation is running at more than 50 per cent, pressure on the local exchange rate is building and dollar reserves are perilously low. By some calculations net central bank reserves have already fallen into negative territory.

Argentina’s 22nd deal with the IMF since it joined in 1956 is now subject to approval from the fund’s board as well as the country’s senate, which is expected to vote early next week. ​​​

Street protests against the IMF deal turned violent outside congress in the capital Buenos Aires on Thursday as the session opened. Demonstrators set fire to rubbish containers and threw stones at the building. Police were called to control crowds.

President Alberto Fernández had been struggling to convince a fractious parliament to approve the IMF deal, which restructures money lent under a record-breaking $57bn bailout in 2018 signed by the previous centre-right government of Mauricio Macri.

Members of the opposition bloc and some critical voices within the ruling coalition got behind the deal this week after ministers agreed to drop a clause stating that congress would support government economic policy.

The government’s win removes the threat of an imminent default on $19bn of repayments due to the fund this year, but investors are sceptical that a divided and unpopular administration facing elections in 2023 can keep the new arrangement on track and deliver on the conditions set out. 

Fernando Sedano, an economist at Morgan Stanley, described the IMF programme that will delay debt repayments to 2026 as “soft” and “non-transformative” in a client note, saying the plan delivered no structural reforms to foster investment and long-term growth.

Buenos Aires has agreed to gradually reduce the budget deficit over three years and curb central bank money-printing in exchange for a four-and-a-half-year grace period on IMF payments. The government has already agreed a separate restructuring with private bondholders.

One of the main disagreements with officials in Washington during months of inconclusive talks had been over how quickly to withdraw big subsidies on electricity and gas prices. Argentina will reduce energy subsidies by a planned 0.6 per cent of gross domestic product this year, something that analysts warn is unrealistic given the surge in global fuel prices.

Once the IMF board gives the green light — which is widely expected — the country is due to receive $9.8bn of funds. Additional amounts are subject to passing quarterly revisions by IMF staff.

Argentina has been cut off from most external finance since defaulting on its foreign debt for a ninth time in 2020.

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