Argentine Congress passes law to prevent sale of state stakes in firms

miércoles 23 de septiembre de 2015 19:20 GYT

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Argentina's Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to a law making it harder for the government to sell state stakes in local firms, a month before elections seen bringing a more market-friendly president to power.

With Cristina Fernandez barred from a third consecutive term, the two main candidates are her ruling party's Daniel Scioli and the PRO opposition party's Mauricio Macri. Both are expected to move away from her interventionist policies, to varying degrees.

The law, passed 127-84 in the lower house, would create an agency to administer the state's stakes in companies as diverse as regional banks and media conglomerate Clarin. It would require the governments to get two-thirds approval in congress if it wanted to sell a stake.

Ruling party lawmaker Roberto Feletti said the law aimed to "protect state interests, giving parliament the ability to decide whether or not to sell them".

Fernandez has expropriated several companies over the years, including a water company, the oil company YPF and the country's biggest airline, Aerolineas Argentinas. The state also acquired a number of stakes in companies when it nationalized its private pension system.

This policy which scared off international investors was popular at home. Many Argentines fear that if Macri won October's elections, he could return them to the neoliberal policies and privatisations of the 1990s.

Opposition lawmakers were critical of the fact the sale of state stakes in companies would require a two-thirds approval in Congress given laws only require a simple majority.

Argentina's senators already passed the law in a vote last week. (Reporting by Ricardo Mangano; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Bernard Orr)