By Charles Newbery
BUENOS AIRES (AA) – President Mauricio Macri on Wednesday appointed a new head of a commission to clamp down on abusive business practices in a fresh effort to cut 30 percent inflation.
Esteban Greco was sworn in as head of the National Antitrust Commission, charged with protecting consumers from excessive price increases.
"We can not continue living with inflation if we want to grow," Macri said during a televised press conference.
Argentina has been running double-digit inflation since 2007, reaching a peak of 40 percent annual in 2014 before receding to 26 percent in 2015.
But inflation picked up pace to 30 percent this year after Macri devalued the peso days after taking office in December.
The local currency has depreciated 51 percent to 14.85 per dollar since the Dec. 16 devaluation, according to the central bank.
Macri called for patience in the drive to reduce inflation to a target of between 3.5 percent and 6.5 percent in 2019.
"We've had inflation for years, and it is going to take us a while to reduce it," he said.
The commission will work to promote competition, by helping medium-size companies expand production to meet demand, amongst other measures.
"We want to enhance midsize businesses and avert monopolies and oligopolies with which we end up losing jobs for Argentines and things wind up costing us more," Macri said.
The president said the commission would change its strategy to focus on protecting consumers against price fixing and related practices by large companies.
Under previous management, the commission would instead "discretionally persecute and intimidate" companies and treat them as "enemies," according to Macri.
Now, "it will ensure that small and midsize companies can grow against the powerful companies," he said.
As a result, "we will have more products to choose from, and at the best prices and quality".
The commission will take action against companies that undercut competition to put them out of business.
Businesses will face fines and sanctions for such practices, Production Minister Francisco Cabrera said during a separate press conference.
In a related effort to contain inflation, the central bank raised interest rates this week by 25 basis points to 30.5 percent for 35-day notes, a benchmark rate.
The increase comes after the bank gradually cut rates from 38 percent at the end of December.
The higher rates encourage saving in pesos, helping to reduce the expansion of the money supply so as to ease pressure on rising prices.