Political storm in Argentina due to the nationalization of the agro-export giant Vicentin | International

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The Grupo Vicentin plant in the port of Rosario, in the Argentine province of Santa Fe.Telam

The Argentine government announced on Monday the intervention and subsequent nationalization by parliament of Vicentin, the sixth largest exporter of grains, oils and flour in the South American country. President Alberto Fernández said that the "rescue" of the company, in default of 1,350 million dollars since December, will allow the State to have a base in the most dynamic and modern market in Argentina. “The debate will have to be given in Congress. There they will have the opportunity to compare us with Venezuela, with hell and with all the other things, ”Fernández said, anticipating criticism from the opposition. From the macrismo they considered that the measure was "dangerous, illegal and unconstitutional."

Vicentin is a family business founded 90 years ago in the north of the province of Santa Fe, the heart of the Argentine cereal basin. Last year it dispatched 300 ships loaded with soybeans, corn, flour, oils, meat and biofuels and invoiced 4.255 million dollars. Its tentacles even reach the production of wines, honey and yarns, with offices in Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay. The fortunes of the company changed in the middle of last year, towards the end of the government of Mauricio Macri. Along with the depreciation of the peso against the dollar, the company did not resist the rise in interest charged by the Banco Nación (public entity) for funding current expenses. The rate went from 7% a year to more than double and became unsustainable. Last December, Vicentin owed banks and raw material producers (its clients) 1.35 billion dollars, of which 350 million correspond to Banco Nación.

The virtual bankruptcy of Vicentin caused a financial earthquake in the Argentine production chain, where hundreds of producers who had advanced their deliveries were left unpaid. Its assets will now be managed by YPF Agro, the state oil company that sells grains, fertilizers and fuels for the field. “We found out (about the intervention) through the media and we will protect our rights. The path chosen fills us with uncertainty and concern, "said the company's management in a statement, where it recalls that Vicentin" has repeatedly expressed the will to honor the commitments made "to the judge who leads the bankruptcy. The owners even revealed who were in talks to join YPF Agro as a partner of the company.

The expropriation bill was the work of a young ultra-Kirchner senator, Anabel Fernández Sagasti. Faced with the wave of criticism, President Fernández had to clarify that behind the intervention is not the hand of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom the opposition associates with previous nationalizations that ended with losses for the State, such as the oil company YPF and Aerolineas Argentinas. The president also said that his intention is not to move towards a socialist model, in clear reference to Venezuela: "We are not expropriating a prosperous company. If the company were operating normally, I would not have thought about any of this. That is the difference. between our decision and any interventionist or socialist policy ”.

Vicentin's intervention will allow the Government to have a significant player in Argentina's main export market, responsible for 70.5% of foreign exchange earnings. Agriculture is also the only sector that has survived the crisis and the quarantine against the coronavirus, which has paralyzed the Argentine economy since March 20. According to data from INDEC, the official statistics office, exports of industrial origin fell 58.3% in April, but those of raw materials rose 10.8%. The weight of cereal exporters is so heavy that the liquidation of their currencies moves the price of the dollar in the domestic market. Export taxes are another source of extraordinary resources for the State and the source of constant tensions with the sector. The Government will now have “a very important witness company for grains,” warned Fernández.

For the macrista opposition, however, the news is not to celebrate. They emphasize that with this measure "true Kirchnerism" arises, which they consider statist and linked to the ideas of the late Hugo Chávez. In a long statement, the party of former President Mauricio Macri, Pro, warned that the intervention is "dangerous, illegal and unconstitutional." "With the excuse of 'food sovereignty', the expropriation of Vicentin may be the first step to advance in greater regulation of the grain market, which is working well," they denounced. For the former Minister of Agriculture of Macri, José Luis Etchevehere, "it is a very bad sign if the State begins to put a political price on products." The war for Vicentin's future is also ideological.

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