Argentina Imports Still Closed For Business

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on RedditPrint this pageEmail this to someone

Non-Transparency Means Corruption.

By Bianca Fernet, Argentina, The Bubble:

The new Macri administration has been tooting its own horn, so to speak, about taking giant strides to liberalize the country’s trade policy. On two important fronts, it’s right. By removing currency controls, or the infamous cepo and blue dollar system, the government removed a de facto tax on exporters. The government has also removed export taxes, or tariffs, on grains, meat, industry, minerals and pretty much every important export sector. But when it comes to liberalizing imports, the Macri government has been woefully negligent.

Imports Under Cristina

Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner restricted imports to almost zero in order to prop up the value of the Argentine peso and keep reserves in the Central Bank (BCRA). Basically, every time Argentina imports anything, the BCRA has to give up dollars to pay for it, which weakens the peso and lowers reserves.

Cristina’s government used a system called Declaración Jurada Anticipada de Importación (DJAI). Under the DJAI system, importers had to submit a formal document requesting permission to import, and this request was then basically denied in most cases unless you were best friends with secretly paying off approved on the basis of merit to the country. This created a system whereby importers routinely brought complaints via the judicial system to get their DJAI approved.

In plain English: if you wanted to import anything, you went through the formal process, got denied, took the denial to a specialized legal consultant who got the request “approved” by a judge in exchange for a commission that floated between 10 and 20 percent. That’s corruption and what we economists describe as economically detrimental rent seeking behavior, when someone uses their resources to obtain an economic gain from others without reciprocating benefits to society via wealth creation.

WTO Charges Against Argentina

Unsurprisingly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) brought charges against Argentina for a non-automatic, non-transparent licensing process that made it literally impossible to import without having either shady connections or paying off judges. In the Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures, the WTO explicitly states that “import licensing should be simple, transparent and predictable.” A crazy judge-payoff method is none of those things.



From a purely economic standpoint, non-tariff barriers are just plain bad. There are perfectly justifiable reasons to limit imports. Maintaining stability in the currency value is certainly one of them. Protecting local industry and jobs is another.

When a government limits imports by charging a high tariff, it simultaneously achieves the initial positive objectives as well as generates income for the government via the tariff paid by importers. Furthermore, it gives importers seeking to access the economy a clear playing field to compete, ensuring that imports that got into the country are of competitive quality. Revenue generated via import tariffs can then be used by the government to fund social programs, welfare safety nets, or infrastructure that benefits society as a whole. Win.

Non-automatic licensing systems grant permission to import at the discretion of government officials, with no accountability or transparency. So when Macri’s government decided to abolish the DJAI system and seek compliance with the WTO, you’d think it would put in place a system that, while potentially still restrictive, would create fair and transparent rules that importers could follow to access the market.

Meet SIMI, Macri’s New, Equally Terrible Imports System

You’d be wrong. Instead of laying out clear criteria for approval and transparent tariffs, the new government has replaced the DJAI system with another non-automatic licensing system known as SIMI.

The new SIMI system basically replicates the Licencias No Automáticas (LNA) system that was in place until 2013. The name literally translates as “Non-Automatic Licenses.” The major difference is that the new SIMI system is actually even MORE restrictive than its 2013 predecessor.

In 2013, only 600 import sectors did not receive automatic licenses. Now, 1,400 sectors do not receive automatic licenses, representing a 130% increase in the number of products that must be arbitrarily approved to get into Argentina. Sectors subject to the non-automatic licensing system include:

  • Automobiles and Auto Parts
  • Motorcycles
  • Tires
  • Machinery
  • Textiles
  • Shoes and Apparel
  • Electric Equipment
  • Agriculture Machinery
  • Electronics
  • Toys
  • Paper
  • Plastics
  • Iron & Steel
  • Wood
  • Furniture
  • Chemical Products

Any transaction, regardless of what import, for over US$2 million requires previous authorization.

While Macri’s administration claims these restrictions exist to protect local jobs and industry, many of the products on the list are for inputs or raw materials that are neither available nor produced in Argentina.

Unsurprisingly, WTO members have resolved to bring new charges against Argentina for replacing a non-compliant, non-automatic system with a new but still non-compliant, non-automatic system.

Non-Transparency Means Corruption

The international community should hold Macri to task on this one. As a sovereign nation, Argentina has the right to restrict imports and a defensible argument to protect jobs, promote local industry, and maintain stability of the newly floating Argentine peso. As the President, Macri should create a system that is transparent and competitive that achieves these objectives while simultaneously generating revenue for the country in the form of import tariffs. He should not replicate a system that empowers government officials and allows judges to extract bribes from businesses. By Bianca Fernet, The Bubble

Argentina is sinking into twin energy crises at the worst possible time. Read…. Oil vs. Electricity: Argentina’s Impossible Emergency



Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on RedditPrint this pageEmail this to someone

  6 comments for “Argentina Imports Still Closed For Business

  1. robert h siddell jr
    Feb 18, 2016 at 9:51 pm

    How come you guys don’t sell us corn beef anymore; haven’t seen it on Sams or Costco’s shelves for about 3 years. The stuff keeps good for 5 or more years and is oh so good in so many ways.

  2. Al Tinfoil
    Feb 18, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    I find much of this article to be high comedy, although it is not intended to be. e.g. “economically detrimental rent seeking behavior when someone uses their resources to obtain an economic gain from others without reciprocating benefits to society via wealth creation.” And the role of Wall Street, captured regulators, bought politicians, and those who place money-for-nothing speculative bets in the Wall Street casino are somehow not guilty of this and are not symbolic of the modern financialized economies of the World?

    And
    “From a purely economic standpoint, non-tariff barriers are just plain bad. There are perfectly justifiable reasons to limit imports. Maintaining stability in the currency value is certainly one of them. Protecting local industry and jobs is another.”

    Some economists might say otherwise. Protecting local industries and jobs behind high tariff walls effectively applies a tax on local consumers to protect local producers from more competitive foreign producers. As for non-tariff barriers being “just plain bad”, there may well be better reasons for non-tariff barriers than for tariff barriers, such as protecting people from contaminated food imports, or protecting local ecosystems from invasive species, or preventing the import of glyphosates and neonicotinoids.

    And then :
    “When a government limits imports by charging a high tariff, it simultaneously achieves the initial positive objectives as well as generates income for the government via the tariff paid by importers. Furthermore, it gives importers seeking to access the economy a clear playing field to compete, ensuring that imports that got into the country are of competitive quality.”
    Clear playing field? Ensures that imports are of competitive quality? Tariffs increase the cost of imports, so to be price competitive the import may well be of poorer quality. But that is just my humble opinion.

    As for officials and judges taking bribes to grant import approvals, how else is a self-respecting official or judge in South America to get enough to live the lifestyle to which he or she would like to be accustomed? Emigrate?

    If I may attempt to continue in a humorous vein, may I suggest Argentina and Venezuela should join in a Customs and Currency Union. They could then share one Credit Score, and Argentina could supply Venezuela with food and toilet paper in return for Venezuelan oil. Between the wacko bus driver in the north and the wackos in the south, they could meet somewhere in the middle of the policy soup. And each could blame the other for continuing problems, when they are not blaming the USA and capitalist pirates. They might even get Brazil to join the party, or join with Brazil in Carnival. Add Cuba for social and economic philosophical advice. The EU and Euro provide illuminating guidance on how it should [not] be done.

    But South America needs a vaccine against Toxoplasmosis (Brain parasite that causes foolish behavior, transferred to humans by cats) before we could expect rational behavior to break out. Toxoplasmosis infects the brains of rats and mice and causes reckless behavior such as losing their natural fear of cats. Cats catch Toxoplasmosis from infected rodents that are easy to catch, and humans catch it from cats and from rodent droppings. Toxoplasmosis infection rates in humans in South America are very high, and from the foolish behavior of the population, it seems to confirm the theory that it makes humans foolish as it does rodents. But then again, that is just my humble opinion.

    • nick kelly
      Feb 19, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      All countries have prohibitions ( not tariffs) against importing invasive species or other dangerous goods.
      This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic, or 99.999 % of the goods being assessed some kind of duty, tariff, bribe etc. which is all about giving a rent to entrenched interests.

  3. nick kelly
    Feb 18, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    You know I don’t even know what to say about Argentina and Venezuela. How long as Argy been screwed up- 50 years?
    Socialism or at least a big safety net, can work as in Sweden-but the Latino version- not so much.
    There seems to be a disconnect from is usually called ‘reality’ and a belief that a consensus or a vote can conjure prosperity into existence.
    The pleasure from seeing one’s opinion vindicated is not worth the suffering facing these people.
    Remember- the easiest way to get elected is to say: I’m for the little guy

  4. kayjay
    Feb 19, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    God! This woman is at best a neo-liberal if not further right wing. I am tired of seeing her nonsense written up on this otherwise sensible blog.

    No mention is made of Argentina’s competitive weeknesses and the need to keep reserves: it is all attributed to Kirchner’s corruption. No mention is made of Argentina’s very low cost and reasonably good health care system, educational system, parks and roadways, much lower income inequality, etc. What about corrupt Macri paying off Wall Street criminals who bought Argentina’s defaulted bonds at around 10-12 cents on the dollar.

    Get rid of her!

    • Feb 19, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      Kayjay, this article was about import restrictions, and not about Argentine roads, schools, healthcare, parks, income inequality, or whatever other topics you want authors to rave about.

Comments are closed.