Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured in Brasilia on March 12, 2019, has made privatization a central plank of his policy to reduce soaring public debt (Sergio LIMA)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Spain’s Aena snapped up six airports in Brazil on Friday, in an auction seen as the first major test of foreign investor confidence in President Jair Bolsonaro’s market-friendly agenda.

The initial sale of concessions to 12 airports generated 2.3 billion reals ($620 million) — more than 10 times the minimum fee required.

Infrastructure minister Tarcisio Freitas hailed the auction “a great demonstration of confidence in the country.”

Rights to operate the airports — sold in three separate lots — were also won by Flughafen Zurich of Switzerland and a Brazilian consortium, Aeroeste.

Brazil is to complete the sale of concessions to 42 airports between 2020 and 2022, including those at Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The airports auctioned Friday represent 9.5 percent of the domestic market.

Six airports in northeastern Brazil were bought by Aena, two in the center-west went to Zurich, and four in the southeast to Brazilian consortium Aeroeste.

Aena’s successful tender included the auction’s biggest prize, tourist-magnet Recife airport, a destination seen as having the biggest potential because of its relative proximity to Europe.

Bolsonaro’s conservative predecessor Michel Temer initiated a program of privatization, but Bolsonaro has made it a central plank of his policy to reduce soaring public debt and regain investor confidence.

Nine groups competed at the auction organized by the National Agency for Civil Aviation and the Sao Paulo stock exchange.

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