Argentine Economy Chief Massa Discussed IDB Job With US Senators

(Bloomberg) -- US senators recently discussed with Argentina’s Economy Minister Sergio Massa the possibility of him becoming a candidate to lead Latin America’s top development bank, with the American lawmakers saying they believed that he would have a good shot to win.

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Massa discussed the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank, as the Washington-based lender is known, with senators including Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to people familiar with the meeting, who asked not to be identified without permission to speak publicly.

The conversation came two weeks ago as Menendez was leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Buenos Aires amid a wide-ranging discussion of the US-Argentina relationship, according to the people. The meeting, which included Republican Senators Rob Portman, Ben Sasse and Richard Burr and discussions of other issues such as energy and food security, was previously made public, though not the conversation about the bank’s top job.

As the conversation turned to the IDB, the senators told Massa that he’s seen as an experienced political operator, could win backing of leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean and is someone who the US could work with in a pragmatic way, according to two of the people. Massa told the senators it could be a difficult moment for him to leave his current cabinet post in Argentina, according to the people.

A spokesman for Massa confirmed that he and the senators talked about the IDB, but denied that they discussed him becoming a candidate.

Among the senators’ press offices, Menendez’s was not immediately available for comment, Burr’s declined to comment, and those of Sasse and Portman didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.

The IDB race comes at a potentially tricky time for Massa, whose opinion on competing for the job isn’t publicly known.

One of the main figures in Argentina’s Peronist ruling coalition, Massa is Argentina’s third economy minister this year and brought some short-term stability to the crisis-prone country, quickly winning praise from International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for “strong steps” to stabilize the economy.

Yet Argentina’s economy still faces growing challenges, with inflation approaching 100% and expanding capital controls. The crisis complicates the outlook for the ruling coalition next year, and Massa still has ambitions to someday run for president again after a losing bid in 2015.

Read more: Cash-Strapped Argentina Goes All or Nothing on New Economy Chief

Window Closing

If Fernandez’s government formally puts Massa’s name forward for the job, it will need to present his nomination no later than a Friday deadline. The bank’s board of governors, mostly finance ministers from the IDB’s 48 member countries, are then scheduled to interview the candidates next week and make a decision on Nov. 20.

A run by Massa to run would pit him in an election against Ilan Goldfajn, the Brazilian former central bank president and current Western Hemisphere director at the IMF. The US has significant sway in the IDB presidential selection process because it controls 30% of the bank’s voting share, almost triple the amount of second-place Brazil and Argentina.

Chile President Gabriel Boric, who heads the nation’s most left-wing government in half a century, is also nominating a candidate, former finance minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre, though he’s drawn less public attention so far. And Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in September announced plans to nominate Alicia Barcena, the country’s ambassador to Chile and a longtime United Nations official.

IDB nations in September removed the lender’s president Mauricio Claver-Carone, who was nominated by the Trump administration, after a probe into an alleged romantic relationship with a top aide found he probably violated ethics rules.

Read more: IDB Board Votes to Oust Trump-Picked Chief, US Signals Approval

--With assistance from Patrick Gillespie.

(Adds background on additional candidates in second-to-last paragraph.)

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