(Adds quotes from Pena, background on EU-Mercosur trade deal and Argentina farm policies, Etchevehere biographical details)
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Argentina will replace Agriculture Minister Ricardo Buryaile with Luis Miguel Etchevehere, currently the president of the Argentine Rural Society, a powerful industry group, Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena said on Tuesday.
Buryaile will next serve as Argentina’s ambassador to the European Union, Pena said at a news conference. Argentina is the world’s top exporter of soymeal and soyoil and a main exporter of corn, raw soybeans and wheat.
Argentina and other members of Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, are seeking to finalize a trade deal with the European Union. Farmers in France and other countries are concerned about a potential surge in agricultural imports, particularly beef, which Mercosur members Argentina and Brazil export.
“We have asked Ricardo to take this on because it is very important for us in this stage of the negotiations,” Pena said. “One of the most sensitive topics in that negotiation is agriculture.”
Since taking office in late 2015, Argentina’s market-friendly President Mauricio Macri has implemented policies favorable to the South American country’s farm sector, a major driver of the economy and source of foreign currency.
Producers had a combative relationship with former populist President Cristina Fernandez, who hiked export taxes.
Macri eliminated export taxes on wheat and corn, leading to a surge in planting and record harvests. He cut the export tax on soybeans, the country’s main cash crop, from 35 percent to 30 percent, but delayed more cuts to 2018, faced with a gaping fiscal deficit.
Export tax cuts on soy are expected to resume next year, with a gradual reduction of 0.5 percentage points per month for two years. That move is expected to stop a decline in soy planting area.
Etchevehere, a farmer from Argentina’s nEtre Rios province in the vast Pampas grains belt, took the helm of the Argentine Rural Society in 2012. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer, Luc Cohen, Maximiliano Rizzi and Maximilian Heath; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)