Seeds of discontent: Argentina’s farmers turn cool on their man Macri

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine President Mauricio Macri rode to power in 2015 promising to bolster the farming sector and cut back taxes that had stymied exports. The country’s backbone industry welcomed him with open arms after years of export controls aimed at keeping domestic prices low.

The powerful sector is now cooling on the center-right president, frustrated by revived export tariffs and sky-high borrowing rates that have bruised smaller farmers, a concern for Macri ahead of national elections later in the year.

Argentina’s farming sector, which brings in more than half of the export dollars in South America’s second-biggest economy, is a key barometer for Macri, who has sold himself as a champion of business and industry, none more so than the country’s huge soy, wheat and corn farms.

“We publicly supported the administration in the last elections (mid-terms in 2017) as we believed they were managing the policies farmers needed,” said Carlos Iannizzotto, president of the Confederación Intercooperativa Agropecuaria, one of the country’s four major farming bodies.

“Today we cannot do the same.”

Reuters spoke to the leaders at all four associations, who collectively make up the influential “Mesa de Enlace” or liaison committee. They cited Macri’s backtracking on cutting taxes on exports and the high cost of credit with interest rates above 60 percent.

The farm lobbies do not directly sway the votes of a huge proportion of voters, analysts and pollsters cautioned, but said that their weakening support was a sharp warning sign for Macri ahead of the October election, which is expected to be closely fought.

Dardo Chiesa, president of a second lobby, the Confederaciones Rurales Argentinas, said farmers had become “disappointed” with Macri’s performance on the economy, with a tumbling peso and inflation running at over 50 percent.

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