Cargill concerned about Brazil government 'insults' to top trade partner China

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Insults by Brazilian government officials aimed at China, the country’s main trading partner, are detrimental to Brazil’s business interests and “not even very smart,” the chief executive of Cargill’s local operations said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Soybean plantation is seen in Rio Verde, Goias state, Brazil January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Roberto Gomes

The aggressive stance against China sometimes taken by members of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government is “a great cause for concern,” Paulo Sousa said in an interview with a local newspaper streamed live on social media.

Bolsonaro has in the past criticized China’s growing economic role in Brazil and aligned his country with the United States.

His son Eduardo Bolsonaro, a lawmaker, in March accused China of spreading the new coronavirus to other countries, and Education Minister Abraham Weintraub suggested in April that the disease would help China “dominate the world” in a Twitter post that mocked Chinese accents.

“We have the role of providing food to the world regardless of color, race, creed or political preference of a country,” Sousa said. “So it’s not fitting for Brazilian government officials to insult our biggest client. I’d say it’s not even very smart.”

Cargill was Brazil’s largest shipper of soybeans and corn in the five months through May, according to data from maritime agencies. The U.S.-headquartered grain trader exported 8.1 million tonnes of the oilseeds out of Brazil, and almost 342,000 tonnes of corn in the period.

The Brazilian government did not have an immediate comment.

Sousa, who took over as president of Cargill’s Brazil operation last December, said he does not see any immediate risk of an interruption in Brazil’s trade with China, however.

He noted Brazilian soybean exports, of which China is the biggest buyer, have been above expectations this year. And even though the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Brazil very hard, it has not disrupted agricultural export flows due to the resilience of local food supply chains.

“The greatest risk for Brazilian agribusiness in terms of competitiveness and acceptance is environmental risk,” said Sousa. The issue can be even more pressing than the pandemic and the U.S.-China trade war, because of the potential for driving buyers away, he said.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall