The International Monetary Fund warned Argentina Tuesday it could face sanctions in December if it did not move to begin providing more accurate economic data.
In a review of Argentina's progress since it was given six months in February to meet IMF data standards, the IMF executive board said it "regretted the lack of sufficient progress" in Buenos Aires's efforts to bring its data reporting into compliance.
"The board took note of the ongoing dialogue between the IMF and the authorities regarding the measures, and called on Argentina to implement the measures without delay," it said in a statement.
The board gave Buenos Aires another three months, until December 17, when it will again review the issue. At that time the board "may consider additional steps based on Argentina's response, and in line with IMF procedures," it warned.
That left Argentina on a path to become the first country ever censured by the board for faulty economic data -- though the board could again put off action in December.
Failure to meet IMF rules can lead to sanctions, including suspending a member's voting rights -- an extremely rare event which would be a first for a developed G20 country like Argentina.
The IMF and Argentina have been battling over Buenos Aires's widely questioned official data on inflation and gross domestic product since last year, with private sector economists saying the government vastly understates the pace of price rises.
Last week the government released monthly figures that implied an annual inflation rate through August of around 10 percent.
But a group of private economists who average their inflation estimates put the pace of price rises at 24 percent, according to media reports.
On Monday Moody's downgraded the outlook on its B3 junk-level debt rating for Argentina to negative from stable.
Moody's cited its stalemate with creditors, its "haphazard policy environment," and "growing concerns about the quality and reliability of Argentina's official data reporting, specifically about inflation and GDP estimates that continue to be significantly at odds with private sector estimates."
Moody's pointed out that Buenos Aires benefits by the under-reporting, because more than 20 percent of its sovereign debt is indexed to inflation.
In July 2011 the IMF gave the Argentine government 180 days to improve the quality of the statistics, which it is obliged to provide the Washington-based global lender.
But rather than take action, in February the IMF gave the government another 180 days to measure up.
Paulo Nogueira Batista, Brazil's representative on the IMF executive board, said not everyone on the board was happy with the terse statement issued Tuesday.
"I would have liked the statement to focus more on the willingness of the Argentinian authority to undertake the recommendations of the IMF," he told AFP.
In Buenos Aires, the government, contacted by AFP, declined to comment on the IMF action.
The IMF and Argentina have a long history of troubled relations, with successive governments blaming the Fund for domestic economic failures and the country's deep troubles in international debt markets.
In January 2006 the government paid off Argentina's debt with the IMF -- some $9.5 billion -- and cut links with the Fund.
Since then Argentina has been the only country in the G20 that does not allow annual economic assessments by official IMF teams.
But at the end of 2010, the IMF was invited back to assist with collection and formulation of economic data, opening the way to the current impasse.