Brazil front-runner's planned ministry merger could hurt farm trade: official

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian far-right presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro’s proposal to merge the farm and environment ministries could hurt Brazil’s quest for 10 percent of the global farm trade, the country’s deputy agriculture minister said on Tuesday.

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro is pictured during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Eumar Novacki said that he was not opposed to the idea of combining the ministries but that it would likely be viewed abroad as a step backward in the country’s environmental protection and hurt consumer perceptions of its agriculture industry.

“A merger could be misunderstood from the point of view of the market, and this is the concern we have,” Novacki told Reuters in an interview.

Bolsonaro has a commanding lead in opinion polls over leftist Fernando Haddad headed into an Oct. 28 runoff election and has pledged a variety of policies to shake up what he sees as Brazil’s corrupt and wasteful politics.

Among them, he has said he plans to reduce the number of ministries by roughly half to 15.

Bolsonaro’s top agriculture adviser Nabhan Garcia last week confirmed the presidential hopeful’s plans to merge the environment and agriculture ministries. The move is intended to reduce bureaucracy farmers face and help end fines against producers that Garcia said amounts to “persecution.”

However, the ability of Brazil’s environmental protection agency to fine those who break environmental laws is one of the government’s best defenses against the destruction of the Amazon and other forests, stoking fears that a Bolsonaro government would mean that deforestation would spike.

Novacki said that the country is striving to increase its share of the global agriculture trade across all farm products to 10 percent from 7 percent currently but that any fears that Brazil was retreating from environmental regulation could hurt product sales abroad.

The country has strict environmental laws with roughly two-thirds of its native vegetation preserved, said Novacki, adding that it was important to communicate to international consumers that when you buy Brazil you are preserving the planet.

“No one does what Brazil has done in this environmental area. We have one of the most stringent laws in the world,” he said. “We do not want to and will not back down in this policy. Now we want the world to recognize this.”

Reporting by Ana Mano and Jake Spring, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien