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Sun Valley conference: Argentine President Macri explains economic turnaround

Globalization may be the key to boosting Argentina's economy, President Mauricio Macri told CNBC on Thursday.

"We accepted that Argentina should be part of a global scenario; that means that anyone can come in with their money and go out with their money whenever they like," said Macri, who spoke from the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho. "We have cut expenses and we have cut taxes to exports. We have given back independence to the central bank to cut inflation."

Macri ran for office pledging to remove import restrictions and currency controls. But completely free trade is not the perfect prescription, he said.

"Unfortunately, we have to raise tariffs, because without investment in the last 10 years a country without energy cannot grow. I explained that to the citizens, and they understood," Macri said. "It's amazing how they are a companion with us in this effort to go back to growth."

Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, at the 2016 Sun Valley conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Michael Newberg | CNBC
Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina, at the 2016 Sun Valley conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Macri says his number-one priority is reducing poverty. Doing so, he said, will generate employment and draw investment to the country. He's confident that Argentina will reach its goals of $100 billion in foreign investment over the next few years. And he said it's crucial that the investments be distributed.

Foreign investment, Macri said, is "coming from all around the world. If everything comes from China, that will be an imbalance. China has been aggressive — they're ready to put [in] all the money we need to invest, to buy, to purchase our companies. But I need a balanced situation in my country, with a great relationship with the States that started with a trip of [President] Obama to Argentina, with the European Union. We are mainly descendants of Europeans; it's easier to deal with Europe than Asia."

With that investment, Macri said "we are launching the most important infrastructure program in our history — ports, energy, trains, waterways. The other sector in which we are very competitive is agribusiness. We will double food production in the next five years." He said with wind and solar energy, the country is working to be energy self-sufficient "as soon as possible."

"We are lucky. We may be the only good news around the world. The world is a mess." -Mauricio Macri, president of Argentina

And now that Argentina has resolved a long-running, multi billion-dollar debt dispute, Macri said the country won't pursue more debt financing for the next three to four years. Argentina earlier this year reached an agreement with hedge fund Elliott Management and other bondholders, and it followed that up with a massive, $16.5-billion bond offering in April.

"We are lucky. We may be the only good news around the world," Macri said. "The world is a mess. Argentina shows opportunity, for doing good business, taking care of the environment to fight climate change, paying taxes. Argentina will continue to grow."

Referring to the big, recent event that many in Sun Valley are talking about — the Brexit referendum — Macri predicted that the U.K.'s separation from the European Union won't ultimately go through, saying that Brexit "will risk the end of the U.K." He said that the leaders that pushed for the referendum weren't prepared to win and now don't have a Plan B.

As for Argentina's most popular pastime, soccer, Macri weighed in there as well, saying he's confident he'll be able to convince the nation's biggest soccer star, Lionel Messi, not to retire: "I talked to him on the phone; I'm sure he will come back. He's the best in the world."

WIth him back on Argentina's team, Macri predicted a win in the next World Cup.