(Adds Levy comments and context)
SAO PAULO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Brazil needs to act quickly to stabilize its finances and get rid of measures used to stimulate growth during the global downturn in order to bolster expansion in 2016, Finance Minister Joaquim Levy said on Monday.
Speaking to investors in Sao Paulo, Levy reiterated several times that fiscal discipline is key to gaining the trust of investors and paving the way for an economic recovery.
He defended changes to labor and pension benefits, which are facing a growing chorus of critics in Congress, including lawmakers from President Dilma Rousseff’s own party. The measures, announced in December, could save the country up to 18 billion reais ($6.23 billion) this year.
Levy said the government will roll back countercyclical measures, such as higher public spending and tax breaks for businesses, in a bid to improve the country’s public finances, despite fears that Brazil’s economy could contract this year.
“Fiscal stability is the base of currency and price stability,” Levy said.
Levy, a fiscal conservative who took office in January, has started raising taxes and limiting public spending to avoid a credit downgrade this year that could scare off already wary investors.
The tax increases have angered powerful labor unions and lawmakers from the government’s loose coalition. Truckers in the country’s main soy- and corn-producing state of Mato Grosso have blocked highways since last week to protest a higher fuel tax. ($1 = 2.8896 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Marcela Ayres; Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)