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Viewing cable 06BUENOSAIRES118, MINISTER MICELI DISCUSSES ECONOMIC POLICY AND LATIN AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT WITH A/S SHANNON REF: 05 BUENOS AIRES 3122 Classified By: Ambassador Lino Gutierrez for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D) ------- Summary -------

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06BUENOSAIRES118 2006-01-17 20:08 2011-03-03 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Buenos Aires
VZCZCXRO3819
OO RUEHRG
DE RUEHBU #0118/01 0172040
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 172040Z JAN 06
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3120
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION PRIORITY 5282
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 5051
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS PRIORITY 0808
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ PRIORITY 3915
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO PRIORITY 5245
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO PRIORITY 4872
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE PRIORITY 0093
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO PRIORITY 1841
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO PRIORITY 2732
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEBAAA/USDOE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 BUENOS AIRES 000118 SIPDIS SIPDIS WHA FOR A/S TOM SHANNON, PDAS CHARLES SHAPIRO AND PATRICK DUFFY NSC FOR DAN FISK OUTHCOM FOR POLAD AND J5 FOR JUAN RENTA USDOC FOR 4322/MAC/OLAC/BASTIAN/PEACHER  E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/17/2016 
TAGS: PREL ECON EFIN ENRG EINV EAGR AR BL

SUBJECT: MINISTER MICELI DISCUSSES ECONOMIC POLICY AND LATIN AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT WITH A/S SHANNON  REF: 05 BUENOS AIRES 3122  Classified By: Ambassador Lino Gutierrez for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)  ------- Summary -------  

1.  (C) WHA Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon called on Minister of Economy Felisa Miceli during his visit to Buenos Aires on January 12.  Miceli said she had worked for former Minister of Economy Roberto Lavagna for many years and that 
her presence is a continuation of what the GOA has been doing 
since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2002.  She then 
provided a review of the GOA's economic policy.  Miceli 
minimized the likelihood that that would be an expansion of the GOA's anti-inflation efforts, arguing that the GOA is only dealing with 200 basic products, is limiting itself to the "joint and voluntary" monitoring of prices, and is only working with a few large companies.  She claimed that while it is still early, she has seen no negative side effects from the GOA's anti-inflation measures.  Miceli said that the need to attract investment is another major challenge for the GOA, 
as the growth of demand has not been accompanied by the growth of supply in many sectors.  Consequently, the GOA is creating proposed legislation to encourage investment in a variety of areas.  The GOA will also be making large investments in the energy sector.  Miceli was hopeful about Latin America's ability to find a way to grow out of poverty and crisis.  A/S Shannon replied that the U.S. was worried 
about the hemisphere, but noted that the current situation 
was also an opportunity.  Miceli said that the U.S. could "count on" Argentina in its efforts to promote democracy and economic and social development in the region.  The Ambassador raised the case of U.S. biotechnology company Monsanto at the end of the meeting and Miceli said she thought the GOA would be able to find a solution.  Some U.S. companies would disagree with Miceli's claim that the GOA did not intend to pressure companies to keep their prices down. 
End Summary  --------------------------------------- The Fundamentals of GOA Economic Policy --------------------------------------- 2.  (C) Minister of Economy Felisa Miceli received A/S Tom Shannon on January 12.  Miceli began the meeting by saying that she had worked for former Minister of Economy Roberto Lavagna for many years and that her presence in the Ministry is a continuation of what the GOA has been doing since the beginning of the economic crisis (when Lavagna took office) in 2002.  Miceli then provided a summary of the "fundamentals" of the GOA's current economic policy:  -- High fiscal surplus:  The fiscal surplus must be high, high enough to comply with the GOA's commitments associated with the 2005 debt exchange (i.e., debt service on the new debt) as well as its commitments to international 
institutions and bilateral creditors such as the Paris Club, the World Bank and the IDB.  -- Competitive exchange rate:  The exchange rate must be competitive, competitive enough to preserve a current account surplus.  The previous exchange rate regime (i.e., 
convertibility) had an "anti-export" bias (sesgo). -- Strong reserve position:  The international reserves of the Central Bank must be rebuilt after the total payment of Argentina's IMF debt on January 3.  The "twin surpluses" cause by the fiscal surplus and the current account surplus have allowed the Central Bank to accumulate a strong reserve  BUENOS AIR 00000118  002 OF 006 position. -- Moderate interest rates:  Interest rates must be high enough to encourage people to deposit their money in the banks, but they must also be low enough to permit the financing of business investment. 
 -- Budget cuts:  The Ministry of Economy will make an extra effort this year to "reduce" public expenditures.  The Ministry of Economy is currently fighting various ministries in its efforts to reduce spending. 
-- Anti-cyclical fund:  The Ministry will save the budget surplus and add it to an anti-cyclical fund.  The funds will then be used to purchase pesos on the local market, thereby reducing the money supply and easing pressure on inflation.  -- Reduced inflation:  Inflation rsponds to multiple }variables, including demand pressures, supply constraints and market expectations.  The GOA is currently engaged in negotiations to "monitor" prices in a wide range of basic 
goods.  --------------------------------------------- -- The Extent of the GOA's Anti-Inflation Measures --------------------------------------------- -- 3.  (C) The Ambassador observed that there was a concern among U.S. companies regarding where the GOA's efforts to monitor inflation would go.  The initial price monitoring agreements were for two months (November and December 2005) and were for a limited number of products.  The GOA is now talking about a one year agreement and 200 products.  Miceli responded that the GOA is only dealing with 200 basic products out of a total of 2,000 products.  These basic products do not include such middle-class items as "plasma TV screens."  The GOA is limiting itself to the "joint and 
voluntary" monitoring of prices.  Furthermore, the GOA is only working with just a few large companies out of a potential universe of a million small, medium and large companies.  We do not have the intention of pressuring companies," she said, "because it is counterproductive."  "We are trying to break inflation expectations," she explained, 
"that would lead to the indexation of the economy."  Brazil has an annual rate of inflation of 6 percent last year and no one there talked about indexation.  Argentina had an inflation rate of 6.1 percent in 2004 and there was talk about the indexation of assets, taxes, contracts, salaries, etc.  Now that Argentina has had an inflation rate of 12.3 percent in 2005, it is even more important to break these 
expectations.  4.  (C) Miceli continued that controlling inflation is only 
one of the problems that face local businesses.  Local businesses have brought many demands to the various ministries, such as labor concerns to the Ministry of Labor, energy shortages to the Ministry of Planning/Secretariat of Energy, and credit and tax concerns to the Ministry of Economy/Secretariat of Finance.  The Ministry of Economy 
wants to consolidate the GOA's response to these concerns in 
a single dialogue.  As the Ministry of Economy jointly monitors prices with companies, it will also work with the same companies to remove labor, energy and financial bottlenecks to investment and growth.  She said the GOA would use "all" measures to fight the plague of inflation.  She also said the GOA can continue to work with a slow increase of prices." -------------------------------- So Far, No Negative Side Effects --------------------------------  BUENOS AIR 00000118  003 OF 006 
 5.  (C) A/S Shannon said that President Bush had congratulated President Kirchner for Argentina's recent economic performance at the recent Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.  He also congratulated her on her new position and her continued policies.  He then asked if the GOA's anti-inflation measures would have negative side effects on the supply of goods and services.  Miceli replied that the anti-inflation measures (i.e., the joint monitoring of prices) were very new, so it was difficult to tell.  So far, the GOA had not seen anything yet.  If there is a problem, the GOA will try to resolve it.  There should be no "ghosts" (fantasmas).  There is also a lot of excess capacity, which reduces some sectors' need for new investment. 6.  (C) The GOA's strategy, according to Miceli, is to work with sensitive industries, such as the dairy products industry.  Two companies, SANCOR and Serenisima dominate the industry and they both have serious debt problems.  If the GOA can help them restructure their debt, they can lower their production costs.  The meat industry is another sensitive industry.  It is a problem because there is a 
shortage of beef (due to increased domestic demand and the 
growing demand for exports following the discovery of hoof 
and mouth disease in neighboring Brazil).  The GOA wants to work with the industry to reduce the export tax from 15 to 5 percent, where it used to be.  She claimed that the meat industry was "very satisfied" with the GOA's efforts.  If the GOA reaches agreements with these and other industries, it will be for a year, and will include more than just price. There will be efforts to control the cost of inputs, labor, 
and financing, resolve supply bottlenecks, and overcome 
bureaucratic barriers.  The GOA will also be working with domestic and foreign companies.  ------------------------------------- Investment is Another Major Challenge ------------------------------------- 7.  (C) Miceli said that the need to attract investment is another major challenge for the GOA, as the growth of demand has not been accompanied by the growth of supply in many sectors.  Consequently, the GOA is creating proposed legislation to encourage investment in a variety of areas. 
This proposed legislation will be presented to Congress when the new Congress resumes session in March.  One proposed bill will be a modification of the Workers' Disability Insurance Law (Ley de Riesgo de Trabajo).  This will reduce the potential liability for work-related accidents, which discourages businesses from hiring additional workers. Another proposed bill will be the Tax Exemption for Investment for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Law (Ley 
para la Desgravacion de PYMEs para la Inversion).  This will encourage investment by allowing small and medium-sized businesses to deduct investments from their taxable income. Other proposed bills will provide investment incentives for the software, biodiesel and biotechnology sectors.  8.  (C) Miceli said the GOA will also be making large investments in the energy sector.  The GOA wants to close the "energy gap," or the gap between the demand and supply of energy, by a certain degree each year.  In particular, the 
Ministry of Planning/Secretary of Energy invested USD 500 million in the expansion of two major gas pipelines (the Northern and Southern Gas Pipelines) in 2005.  These pipelines were partially financed by the private sector (the existing pipeline operators) and the Brazilian export bank, BNDES (because the pipes were manufactured in Brazil).  The Ministry of Planning/Secretary of Energy will invest another USD 1.5 billion in the construction of two combined-cycle, 
thermal power plants near Rosario, in Santa Fe Province, in BUENOS AIR 00000118  004 OF 006  2006.  This time, the GOA will seek financing from the international markets and Andean Development Corporation (CAF) for these projects.  Another needed area of investment is in the country's ports. 9.  (C) Miceli stated that total investment in 2005 was almost 22 percent of GDP, "the highest level in 20 years." The GOA would like to increase this level to 25 percent of 
GDP to guarantee continued high rates of economic growth. She said the GOA has "lots of credit lines from private banks," so the GOA will not have to go to international markets until April or May.  The banks that have offered lines of credit are the banks that managed the GOA debt exchange in 2005.  "We should go to the markets in March or 
April to test the markets," she said, "we are now just 30 to 40 basis points from Brazil."  Miceli admitted that Argentina had broken the confidence that the rest of the world had in Argentina.  "We can only get that back with time," she said. "We also do not want to slow growth," she continued, "because we understand that there is a very large social debt that must be addressed."  She concluded that the GOA is very optimistic about the country's economic performance in the next 4-5 years. ----------------------------- Upcoming Travel to Washington ----------------------------- 10.  (C) A/S Shannon asked if Miceli was planning to travel to Washington in the near future.  Miceli said she had spoken to Secretary of Treasury John Snow the previous day and had "tentatively" agreed to visit Washington in February.  She had second thoughts about going in the middle of winter, but said she wants to go before the March annual meetings of the IDB.  (Comment: The IDB annual meeting this year will take 
place on April 3 in Brazil.  End Comment.)  A/S Shannon said that if she was interested, he could also help organize meetings in the Department of State.  Secretary Rice might be traveling, but Deputy Secretary Zoellick and Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Josette Shiner would be useful to see, if available.  They both have a strong interest in Latin America. ------------------------------------------- 
Hopefulness about Latin America and Boliviia------------------------------- 
 11.  (C) Miceli was hopeful about Latin America's ability to ind a way to grow out of poverty and crisis.  She observed that, "this is a rare moment in Latin America."  "If Latin America can find a way to grow," she said, "in 20 years it could find its way out."  "In Brazil, things are good," she continued, "Together Brazil and Argentina could find a growth path."  A/S Shannon replied that the U.S. was worried about 
the hemisphere, but noted that the current situation was also an opportunity.  The U.S. wants to promote the growth of both democracy and economic and social development.  If democracy and economic and social development do not grow together, they will fail.  Unfortunately, there has been a breakdown in communications between the governments and the governed. Miceli replied that, "It is impossible to live in an economy in crisis.  We had strikes, blockades, demonstrations from 2001 through the peak of the economic crisis in mid-2002." "Forgive me for talking about politics," she said, "but maybe it was better that Evo Morales won the presidential elections in Bolivia, because they wouldn't have let anyone else govern." 12.  (C) A/S Shannon said that what was good about Evo Morales' victory was that he had received a mandate with 54 percent of the vote.  This solves the problem of previous BUENOS AIR 00000118  005 OF 006  Bolivian governments, which had to make so many compromises to form a government that they had burned up their credibility by the time they took office.  Evo Morales will 
not have this problem, but he will have many others.  The question now is how to help Bolivia where there is such a fragmented political system.  The U.S. can help with the development of institutions.  U.S. economic assistance programs have not been understood.  The IMF either did not explain its programs, or they were captured by special 
interests.  The IFIs have put a great deal of money in the area, yet they are not associated with better standards of living or investments that have remained in the country. This assistance should not be manipulated for political reasons.  It should really be used to "irrigate" society. Argentina can help in this area by helping the IFIs market 
their programs in the area. 13.  (C) Miceli said she was happy that A/S Shannon shared this vision for the region.  A/S Shannon said that this was something that the USG would try to promote.  Secretary Snow, 
Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Zoellick all share the SIPDIS 
same vision.  But the U.S. cannot do it alone.  "You can count on us," Miceli replied.  IFI assistance should be used for lasting and visible public works so the people can see the benefits.  Uruguay and Peru have done a better job of using IFI assistance for public works.  Lots of money has been spent on "technical studies."  Argentina is trying to 
change this in 2006 so that the funds go to public works. The funds that were provided by the more developed countries in the EU to promote the development of the newer members went to concrete projects, not "consulting and invisible projects." 14.  (C) A/S Shannon said that there was new leadership in the IDB, with Colombian President Luis Alberto Moreno, and in the OAS, with Chilean Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. The U.S. is trying to work with Moreno and Insulza to promote these ideas.  A/S encouraged Miceli to call on both of them when she goes to Washington.  He described Moreno as very capable, who understood Congress, and who understood how to work with institutions to solve problems.  "In Bolivia," he 
concluded, "there is a chance to show that democracy is not a 
conservative system, to demonstrate that it can address peoples' problems and convince people that they do not have to radicalize and burn down their own house to do anything." Miceli responded that, "Our countries had to go through many of these things.  There is a memory and a desire not to repeat them."  "The U.S. a good example, but it is a distant example," she continued, "Argentina did not advance as much as the U.S., but it also did not lose itself.  Argentina is 
now on a good path.  Latin America suffered under dictatorships, and then under democracies that failed to deliver a better life.  Now Latin America has to find a growth path." ----------------- 
Help for Monsanto ----------------- 15.  (C) The Ambassador raised the case of U.S. biotechnology company Monsanto at the end of the meeting.  He explained that Monsanto had tried every possible means to address its need to obtain a royalty for its GMO Round-Up Ready soybean seed.  In the absence of a domestic solution it was 
progressing with legal action in a number of European countries that imported Argentine soybeans.  Miceli replied that she had spoken to all four of the agricultural associations that had an interest in the issue.  These associations had said that Monsanto has the right to demand a royalty.  The problem was getting them to agree on a price. 
"I think we will be able to find a solution," she said. BUENOS AIR 00000118  006 OF 006   Miceli agreed to meet with Monsanto representatives to discuss the issue.------- Comment ------- 16.  (C) Miceli expressed the same optimism for the future of the Argentine economy that she expressed in the Ambassador's previous call on her (reftel).  She also repeated her serious concerns about inflation and investment.  Some U.S. companies would disagree with Miceli's claim that the GOA did not intend to pressure companies to keep prices down.  In the past, President Kirchner has called for public boycotts of }oil companies like Shell and ExxonMobil for raising prices 
and personally criticized the executives of local supermarket 
chains for doing the same.  The CEO of one major U.S. consumer products company complained to the Embassy as recently as January 11 that he was being strongly pressured to sign a sector-wide price control agreement.  He asked for the Embassy's assistance in resisting this pressure because of his concern that signing such an agreement would leave his company open to the accusation that it was participating in an illegal price cartel.  End Comment. GUTIERREZ