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Argentina Announces New Austerity Measures to Curb Fall of Peso

A woman looks at a sign announcing the price of the U.S. dollar and Brazilian real, in exchange for Argentine pesos, at a money exchange house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept. 3, 2018.

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has announced new austerity measures in an effort to stop the country's economic turmoil.

The measures, which include raising export taxes on grains and cutting the number of government ministries, were prompted by a 16 percent slide in the value of the peso last week.

"To start building the country we want, we have to balance our accounts with a state that spends less than what it receives,'' Macri said in a televised address Monday.

Argentina's currency crisis is forcing the government to seek a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to accelerate a $50 billion loan program.

FILE - Argentina's President Mauricio Macri gestures during a news conference at the Olivos Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, May 16, 2018.
FILE - Argentina's President Mauricio Macri gestures during a news conference at the Olivos Presidential Residence in Buenos Aires, May 16, 2018.

Macri, a pro-business conservative who came into office in 2015, is seeking to calm markets and restore confidence to Argentines who continue to lose purchasing power.

The peso lost half its value against the dollar since January, and inflation is running at more than 30 percent.

The slide intensified last week after Macri unexpectedly announced Argentina would seek faster disbursement of its line of credit from the IMF, setting off fears among investors that Argentina could default on government borrowing.

Global stock markets fell for a third-straight day Monday, triggered in part by the sell-off in Argentina, as well as concerns over the escalation of trade disputes between world powers.

The peso closed at 37.4 pesos per dollar Friday and was trading further down to the dollar, 38.32, at opening Monday.

Macri acknowledged Monday that the new export tax is "a bad tax," but said, "I ask you to understand that it's an emergency." He said exporters "have more capacity to contribute'' and have benefited from the peso's devaluation.

The president said he would cut about half the current number of ministries in an effort to tighten staff and budgets. He did not say which ministries would be cut.

Macri said his government will increase food programs to help the poor who are suffering the high effects of inflation.

"We will overcome the crisis by taking care of the most needy," he said.

Finance Minister Nicolas Dujovne said the new measures would allow the country to achieve a balanced budget next year, excluding payments to service its debts, and for the country to have a fiscal surplus by 2020. Dujovne is due to meet with senior IMF officials Tuesday in Washington.

Argentina is the world's largest exporter of soy meal, and fluctuating prices for soy and other commodities can either help sustain or bust government investment plans.

The country's economic downturn has revived memories of the 2001-'02 economic crisis that plunged millions of Argentines into poverty and led international investors to back out of Latin America's third-largest economy.