| SAO PAULO
SAO PAULO May 13 Brazil's new Agriculture
Minister, agribusiness mogul Blairo Maggi, is expected to make
policy in one of the world's leading commodities exporters
friendlier for business, though environmentalists may still see
him as a threat to the Amazon.
Once known as Brazil's "soy king", Maggi entered Brazil's
billionaire club in his 40s, when he ran his father's Andre
Maggi Group, a grains trading, logistics and energy
He eventually gave up day-to-day control of the business to
enter politics, serving his first of two terms as governor of
the soy-rich state of Mato Grosso in 2002 and winning a Senate
seat in 2011 for the same state.
He still holds a controlling stake in the company, once
Brazil's largest producer of soybeans. Members of his close and
extended family are prominent in agribusiness in the region. His
cousin Erai Maggi Scheffer displaced him as the so-called soy
king with his rival agribusiness group Bom Futuro.
On Thursday, Maggi joined the new cabinet of interim
President Michel Temer, who took power while suspended President
Dilma Rousseff is being tried by the Senate for allegedly
manipulating public accounts.
He replaces the outgoing Katia Abreu, who also got her start
in soybeans but rose quickly through farming associations to
become Brazil's first woman agriculture minister in 2015.
Since entering the Senate, Maggi has focused on trying to
streamline the bureaucracy he blames with sapping farm sector
He is also interested in modernizing agricultural practices
in Brazil, the world's largest exporter of soybeans, coffee,
sugar, poultry, beef and orange juice.
Analysts say Maggi has enough gravitas to make sure Temer's
Cabinet gives the farm sector a fair shake even as the
ministries of finance, foreign relations and the environment
address Brazil's severe economic crisis.
"He has political experience and will not be at a
disadvantage when interacting with the other ministers," said
Luiz Carlos Correa, president of Brazil's agribusiness
association Abag, adding he thought Maggi would succeed at
opening new commodities markets for Brazil.
Soon after Maggi became governor of Mato Grosso, the
activist group Greenpeace gave him its Golden Chainsaw Award,
saying he backed efforts to destroy forests on the lower rim of
the Amazon to plant soy.
Maggi denied violating environmental laws. He has since
worked to curb illegal logging and deforestation by the farm
sector, which he sees as a steward of the environment. He
created a program to monitor farms near the Amazon by satellite.
But Mato Grosso continues to rank among the states with the
heaviest rates of deforestation.
One challenge Maggi will face is the pull-back in private
credit lines from lenders looking to reduce exposure to
commodities in the current market downturn, as well as the
higher interest rates and tougher standards required to access
government loans earmarked for the local farm sector.
(Writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Daniel Flynn and David