More than 250 political, economic, and business leaders gathered at the Alvear Icon hotel in Puerto Madero yesterday for The Economist’s Argentina Summit. “Have We Changed?” was the chosen theme, and set the tone for the event as panelists discussed how Argentina can move on from its rocky economic past to a brighter, more developed, and inclusive economic future.
The opening speaker, Vice President Gabriela Michetti, started the day by preaching the gospel of economic gradualism. She acknowledged that while Argentina’s economic situation wasn’t “the best,” people had voted for a “more and stable and predictable country.”
#ArgentinaSummit: Se está dando un cambio cultural que es fundamental para poder soportar las reformas – “la gente decidió que debemos salir adelante” …..así es. @gabimichetti, Vicepresidenta de Argentina pic.twitter.com/3CsM0MqUSE
— Analytica (@analyticard) March 15, 2018
Several members of President Mauricio Macri’s cabinet spoke at the event, including Minister of the Treasury Nicolas Dujovne, Minister of Agribusiness, Luis Miguel Etchevehere, Minister of Energy and Mining Juan José Aranguren, Minister of Transport Guillermo Dietrich, and Minister of Tourism José Gustavo Santos.
While topics ranged from the rise of fintech to creating a more inclusive economy, the summit was driven by a common theme: the Macri administration’s intention of promoting gradual economic changes to stabilize the economy and work toward long-term growth.
Minister of the Treasury Nicolas Dujovne emphasized this point, adding “we cannot decrease poverty until we increase investment in Argentina.” To that end, he discussed how important a stable economy was in attracting foreign investment, and how while “stabilizing” measures like decreasing national spending on subsidies might have negative effects in the short run, he hopes that they’ll increase foreign investment in the long-term. Following his reasoning, this would create real economic growth for the country, which would then, theoretically, decrease poverty for the population.
Private sector leaders outside of the Cambiemos circle agreed with the need to eliminate poverty. Jorge Lawson, the director of Banco Nación, doubled down on the need for economic growth to create jobs in order to alleviate this issue, since more than 30 percent of citizens live at or below the poverty line.
Signing multinational agreements won’t eliminate poverty, Banco Nación director tells #ArgentinaSummit. He says the only way to eliminate poverty is through “real jobs” that come from economic growth. pic.twitter.com/RznK897Ymo
— The Economist Events (@EconomistEvents) March 15, 2018
Innovation, startups, and entrepreneurship also permeated the event as topical themes. Several tech leaders like Pedro Arnt, the CFO of Mercado Libre, and Sebastian Serrano, the founder of Ripio, discussed the future of tech in Argentina.
With Mercado Libre being Argentina’s largest online retailer, Arnt focused on online retail as a needed engine for growth in the country. He said that the percentage of shopping done online in Argentina trails those of developed countries, and emphasized how this could be a major opportunity for the economy.
Serrano, a co-founder of Ripio, one of Latin America’s leading bitcoin companies, agreed with Arnt that online retail is necessary to grow Argentina’s economy, and discussed the future of financial technology in the country in very optimistic terms: “Buenos Aires is one of the hubs of blockchain technology, with more than 30 businesses, some of the most important in the world.”
While there’s clearly a long way to go, the tone of the event seemed to be one of hope – and the answer to the question “Have we changed?” seemed to be, at least by most panelists, an emphatic yes.