Argentina's Milei praises free markets, slams socialism at Davos

Argentina's Milei praises free markets, slams socialism at Davos


Argentina's Milei praises free markets, slams socialism at Davos

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DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Argentina's libertarian President Javier Milei praised free markets and slammed socialism at Davos during the first overseas tour for the self-proclaimed 'anarcho-capitalist', who is battling to fix a major economic crisis at home.

The trip marks a test for right-wing Milei, a relative political newcomer who took office last month after a rapid ascent from acid-tongued economist and TV pundit to the presidency. He is keen to win backing for his economic ideas, which include shutting the central bank and adopting the dollar.

"Socialism is a phenomenon that creates poverty," he said in a special address to a large and well-heeled crowd at the World Economic Forum, where he is later set to meet with International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva.

"Free enterprise capitalism is the only tool we have to end hunger and poverty," he added.

Milei, who is battling to bring down inflation that topped 200% last year and rebuild depleted Argentina's foreign currency reserves, shot to power last year on the back of voter anger at the worsening economic crisis, often campaigning with a chainsaw to underscore his plans to slash the size of the state.

He is pushing major economic reforms, including spending cuts and deregulation, in a bid to improve the government's finances and boost the economy. But he faces poverty levels which are climbing above 40% and the threat of social unrest.

Ahead of the speech, Milei met British foreign minister David Cameron and was set for a head-to-head with IMF chief Georgieva, after Argentina struck a staff level agreement last week to salvage its $44 billion loan program with the fund.

"We talked about deepening commercial ties, the support they will give us in the IMF and how to promote British investments in Argentina," Milei said after his meeting with Cameron, according to a readout shared by his office.

Argentina and Britain have a longstanding foreign policy conflict over the sovereignty of the British-run Falkland Islands, where they fought a brief war in 1982. Argentina's government said the topic was raised, without adding details.

Buenos Aires has long sought to restore negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falklands, which Argentina calls Las Malvinas, but Britain has said that was not on the table for as long as the islands' inhabitants wanted to remain British.

En route to Switzerland by commercial jet, Milei had said he was attending the WEF in order to "plant the idea of freedom in a forum contaminated by the 2030 socialist agenda".

During his speech, Milei focused on the role of the state across a wide range of activities, which he said amounted to levers of control rather than allowing citizens the freedom to prosper through their own efforts.

Milei's foreign minister Diana Mondino will also meet Cameron, as well as the foreign ministers of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Lithuania and the Swiss secretary for economic affairs, according to her agenda.