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Portugal 'confident' on May bailout exit

Portugal is confident it will exit its bailout program on May 17 but the economic recovery still has a way to go, the Portuguese secretary of state for European Affairs told CNBC.

"We're very confident we can exit the program," Bruno Maçães told CNBC Europe's "Squawk Box." His country was not, however, a poster child for austerity, he said.

"It has been a very difficult process and in fact, I'm not sure we want to talk about 'success' - unemployment is still very high and people have suffered a lot from the process but we did what was necessary and so the country came together to do what was necessary."

Maçães said he and the government were confident that Portugal would exit its bailout program on May 17, but said the exact conditions of its exit from its 78 billion euro ($106.6 billion) bailout program were unknown.

"It's important to wait for news about growth in 2014 which we'll get in a few months or now and to see if our economic recovery is sustainable and sustained if not."

Maçães' comments come as Portugal – one of the peripheral euro zone countries hardest hit by the region's debt crisis - strives to prove it no longer needs international financial assistance.

Lisbon, Portugal
Bruce Bennett | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Lisbon, Portugal

The country was forced to ask for help from the International Monetary Fund and its fellow euro members when a recession meant it could no longer pay its own way in the international bond markets.

As it neared the end of its three-year loan program, last week it launched a five-year bond in an effort to demonstrate its ability to finance itself affordably in the public markets.

(Read more: US's Lew flies to Portugal as periphery parties)

Joao Moreira Rato, the chairman of the Portuguese public debt agency, told CNBC at the time that he was pleased with the auction's success, which was Portugal's first sale of new debt in eight months.

In November, the Portuguese government approved its latest budget which included more tough spending cuts designed to return its economy back to health. Portugal's economy is expected to have contracted by 1.8 percent in 2013, but is forecast to recover and post growth of 0.8 percent in 2014 and 1.5 percent the following year, according Eurostat.

(Read more: Portugal prime minister defiant after bond yields spike)

The government has faced constant opposition to austerity, however, with resistance from business groups, workers' unions and the Constitutional Court.

Maçães insisted that Portugal had reacted well to economic restructuring although he conceded that unemployment --15.5 percent in November 2013 -- remained a key priority for the government going forward.

"I would argue that we have seem green shoots because we have seen fundamental restructuring of the Portuguese economy. It's now essentially based on exports -- accounting for 42 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) as opposed to 28 percent five years ago, -- so [there's been] a fundamental change and the economy seems to have reacted well."

He said the country's priorities were to reduce unemployment, particularly among the young where the rate remained stubbornly high, increasing from 36.5 percent in October to 36.8 percent in November, and to attract foreign investment.

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