January 23, 2018 / 2:49 PM / a year ago

Chilean president-elect names Larrain as finance minister again

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s conservative President-elect Sebastian Pinera on Tuesday named a former finance minister in the top copper exporter, Felipe Larrain, to fill the same spot again in his new cabinet.

Chilean President-elect Sebastian Pinera, delivers a speech next to his ministers during the presentation of his presidential cabinet for his term 2018-2022 in Santiago, Chile January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza

Pinera, a billionaire businessman who won the presidency last month, governed the country from 2010 to 2014, at a time when high copper prices helped underpin a fast-growing economy.

Larrain was finance minister throughout Pinera’s administration. The Harvard-trained economist will likely be seen by the market as a safe pair of hands, but this time around will inherit an economy that has slowed to an annual average of 1.8 percent growth, although rising copper prices have increased optimism.

Pinera, who is due to take over from outgoing President Michelle Bachelet on March 11, unveiled his full cabinet on Tuesday. He repeated campaign promises to jumpstart Chile’s sluggish economy and “correct” the progressive labor, tax and education reforms carried out by Bachelet’s center-left administration.

“We are going to have to make an enormous effort to perfect our democracy, to modernize our state and institutions so that they ... serve all Chileans,” he said at a press conference in the former Congress building in Santiago.

He named senator and long-time politician Baldo Prokurica as incoming mining minister.

Prokurica hails from the small city of Vallenar, in northern Chile, a region known for its vast copper and lithium deposits. A lawyer and legislator of nearly 30 years, he previously served as president of the legislature’s Commission on Mining and Energy.

Chile’s mining industry remains robust, accounting for as much as 15 percent of gross domestic product, depending on the copper price. But Prokurica will face many challenges, including declining ore grades, a relative lack of new investment and complex labor relations.

Well-known local writer Roberto Ampuero, who served as culture minister during Pinera’s first term, will be foreign minister.

Ampuero’s first task will likely be overseeing Chile’s defense against Bolivia at the United Nations’ International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Bolivia, Chile’s landlocked neighbor to the northeast, has demanded Chile grant it sovereign access to the sea.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Rosalba O'Brien

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