Left-leaning congressman named Argentina's next agriculture minister

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The next agriculture minister of grains powerhouse Argentina will be Luis Basterra, President-elect Alberto Fernandez said on Friday, an appointment met with some scepticism by farmers worried about a possible revival of interventionist policies.

Basterra is from a left-leaning faction of the country’s Peronist coalition, unpopular with many growers for its history of intervening in the markets with heavy-handed currency and trade controls. He has been in Congress since 2011, once serving as the chairman of the House agriculture committee.

“The biggest thing Argentina needs is to attract export dollars. We need to export in order to bring in those dollars and meet our obligations,” Fernandez told a news conference.

Argentina is a major world supplier of soybeans, corn and wheat.

Basterra served as agriculture secretary under former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who will be sworn in as vice president on Dec. 10 when the new government begins.

Fernandez de Kirchner feuded non-stop with the farm sector during her 2007-2015 administrations over her interventionist policies, which included strict limits on international shipments of corn and wheat.

Growers had been hoping for the appointment of Gabriel Delgado, a market-friendly economist and technocrat favored by farming groups and export companies.

Farmers Reuters spoke to on Friday said they were prepared to give Basterra the benefit of the doubt, however.

“It’s difficult but let’s wait and see what moves he makes over the next few weeks,” said one major grower from the bread-basket province of Buenos Aires, asking not to be named due to the uncertainty of the situation.

Chief among farmers’ concerns is the possibility of grains export tax increases needed to close the country’s fiscal gap. Growers have also been battered by high interest rates as the central bank tries to control inflation running at more than 50%.

Fernandez tried to assuage their doubts.

“We want to work together with the farm sector in peace, calm, convinced that we have many things to do together,” the president-elect said.

Carlos Iannizzotto, president of CONINAGRO, one of the key farm groups in Argentina, said the industry was “optimistic.”

“We have worked with Luis on a lot of legislative initiatives,” Iannizzotto said. “Hopefully this is a team that can handle the urgencies of the sector, particularly financing.”

Daniel Pelegrina, head of the Argentine Rural Society, another leading farm group, was more guarded.

“It will be important to see how his work team is formed,” Pelegrina said. He mentioned a 14-point agenda that the Rural Society recently submitted to Fernandez’s transition team.

“His position on each of these points will determine if production can reach its maximum potential,” he added.

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