Chile presidential hopeful Pinera vows to double economic growth

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera on Wednesday promised to double economic growth and by 2025 make the country the first in Latin American to achieve “developed nation” status.

Chilean conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Pinera delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Santiago, Chile September 20, 2017. Picture taken September 20, 2017. The banner reads, "Pinera president, better times". REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Pinera said he would increase investment and eventually cut corporate taxes in his bid to expand Chile’s economy. The country is currently judged an upper-middle-income nation by the World Bank and would have to lift per-capita income to join the group of economies termed “developed”.

Long the front-runner in November’s election, recent polls show Pinera, 67, has increased his lead over his nearest opponent, center-left Senator Alejandro Guillier.

Speaking at a news conference, Pinera said he would double growth after a four year period under President Michelle Bachelet in which Chile’s economy slowed to an average annual rate of 1.8 percent expansion due to declining investment.

Pinera, who was president from 2010 to 2014, is strongly backed by the business community in Chile, Latin America’s wealthiest country on a gross domestic product per capita basis. To triumph in a likely December run-off he will need to address middle-class demands for the country’s affluence to be more fairly distributed.

“Our mission, by 2025, is to see Chile become the first country in Latin America to reach developed nation status,” Pinera said. He also promised to leverage future growth to eradicate poverty and better share wealth.

Bachelet’s tax and labor reforms - a hallmark of her center-left administration - have received a lukewarm reception across the political spectrum. Leftists complain the reforms are too timid and the conservative opposition says they have stoked market uncertainty and crimped private investment.

Pinera promised to simplify Bachelet’s tax reform to promote investment and balance the budget within six to eight years.

“We’re striving for a corporate tax rate comparable to that of OECD countries,” Pinera said. Chile’s corporate tax rate in 2018 was 27 percent, compared to the OECD average of 24-25 percent.

A recent spike in the price of copper, Chile’s main export, has started to boost the country’s coffers, leading the government to estimate higher growth of 3 percent next year up from 1.5 percent this year.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara, Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Andrew Hay