Chile announces new agency meant to slash red tape

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera listens to his national anthem at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s government on Monday announced the creation of an office to slash red tape for large investment projects as President Sebastian Pinera seeks to boost economic and job growth in the world’s top copper producer.

Center-right Pinera said he would create an executive Office of Large Sustainable Projects dedicated to reducing excess bureaucracy faced by investors in the South American nation, which scores poorly on regulatory complexity at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“We have a portfolio of projects that are stalled or paralyzed for an array of reasons... No country can give itself that luxury, and even less so one that aspires to development without poverty,” Pinera said.

Growth slowed sharply in Chile under Pinera’s predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, as sluggish copper prices hit the country’s mining sector and business leaders blamed the center-left Bachelet’s social and labor reforms for stoking uncertainty in Latin America’s most stable economy.

In July S&P downgraded Chile’s debt for the first time since the 1990s.

Pinera, who took office in March following an election campaign in which he promised to re-ignite growth, said the new office would serve as a one-stop-shop for investors to help coordinate permitting among government agencies.

Mega projects like the Alto Maipo hydroelectric complex near Santiago and the $2.5 billion Dominga copper and iron mine proposal have become symbols in recent years of the increasing difficulties of doing business in what remains one of Latin America’s most open economies.

In addition to the new government agency, Pinera presented a separate bill to Chile’s Congress to digitize municipal permitting, create dedicated environmental staff to attend investors seeking permits for large projects and overhaul the registry that documents mining concessions for easier reference.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Dan Grebler