Argentina’s Javier Milei unveils sweeping decree to deregulate the economy

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Argentina’s new libertarian president Javier Milei unveiled a sweeping emergency decree on Wednesday night that mandated more than 300 measures to deregulate the country’s economy.

The decree strikes down major regulations covering Argentina’s housing rental market, export customs arrangements, land ownership, food retailers and more. It also modifies rules for the airline, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and tourism sectors to encourage competition. Employee severance packages will be cut and the trial period for new employees extended.

The new rules also change the legal statuses of the country’s state-owned companies, which include an airline, media companies and energy group YPF, allowing them to be privatised.

“Today we are taking our first step to end Argentina’s model of decline,” Milei said in a pre-recorded broadcast. “I have signed an emergency decree to start to unpick the oppressive institutional and legal framework that has destroyed our country.”

The decree marks the realisation of Milei’s campaign promise of a sharp break with the extensive regulations, high taxes and sprawling public sector introduced by the left-leaning Peronist movement over the past two decades. Its implementation, however, may set the libertarian on course for clashes with the Peronists and their allies in Argentina’s powerful labour unions.

After the broadcast, some residents of Buenos Aires banged pots and pans on their balconies in protest. Hundreds of protesters attended an impromptu rally outside Argentina’s congress building, shouting: “Our country isn’t for sale!”

Earlier in the day the first big protest of Milei’s presidency took place in downtown Buenos Aires, where leftist campaign groups gathered thousands of demonstrators and called for “an end to Milei’s . . . chainsaw austerity plan”.

Milei’s economy minister Luis Caputo last week announced cuts to energy subsidies, the dismissal of recently hired public sector employees and a reduction in real terms of the budget of a significant social programme.

Peronist politicians accused the president of issuing the new mandates via decree in order to bypass votes on them in congress, where his La Libertad Avanza coalition holds just 15 per cent of seats in the lower house and less than 10 per cent of the senate.

Under Argentina’s constitution, presidents can issue “decrees of urgency and necessity” on most areas of policy — except tax, penal and electoral matters and rules for political parties — when “exceptional circumstances make it impossible to follow ordinary procedures”. Decrees stay in place until both houses of congress vote to strike them down.

“There is neither necessity nor urgency,” Germán Martínez, leader of the Peronist Unión por la Patria bloc in the lower house, which holds 40 per cent of seats, said on X on Wednesday afternoon, arguing that Milei should call parliamentary sessions to debate his measures as bills. “Don’t be afraid of democratic debate,” Martínez added.

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