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Commentary: Brazil’s complaint ‘deflecting attention from real issues’

Reporters who write for the Internet become accustomed to receiving responses almost before the ink dries, so to speak. For a while, I received e-mails from Midwest farmers within hours of each time I wrote about payment limits.

Then there was the e-mail asking if we had a cattle and sheep newsletter after we launched Farm Press Daily. Curious, I asked the sender where he was from. “New Zealand,” came the reply 12 hours later.

So the e-mail I received from a Brazilian researcher the morning after my Issues column on the WTO ruling on Brazil’s complaint against the U.S. cotton program appeared on wasn’t a surprise.

The message complained about a line that Brazil’s farmers had “stolen much of the technology it now uses to compete with U.S. growers” and that it could be confirmed by going to a “Brazilian farm and counting the number of American company seed bags and containers.”

The word “stolen” might have been a bit strong, although surveys indicate South American farmers pay significantly less for crop inputs from the United States and, in the case of Argentina, lower technology fees for Roundup Ready crops.

The column also referred to Brazil’s black market for Roundup Ready soybeans, which Brazilians cannot legally plant.

The writer glossed over the latter, saying transgenic soybeans are only planted in southern Brazil, on 5 to 10 percent of the acres and some farmers are actually paying Monsanto for the soybeans.

“The Brazilian grower cannot be heavily blamed for that; he is eager for this new technology and is willing to pay,” he said. “The problem is that we have had a government that is completely biased against GMOs and does not take a firm step in regulating it.

“As the grower saw a big advantage in RR soybeans and did not buy the speeches about environmental and health threats, he started bringing in Argentinean RR varieties and increasing it. At this point RR technology does not have a big impact for Brazilian soybean, but hopefully it will.”

The researcher saved his most interesting comments for last.

“Just to add, external trade issues like U.S. and EU farm policies and protectionist hurdles like import taxes, sanitary restrictions, quotas, etc. are only minor problems for Brazilian agriculture,” he noted “Our big problems are internal, specially related with transportation, energy and education, specially in the distant and new production areas.

“Unfortunately, these problems are not being properly addressed by our government that uses all resources just to maintain itself, has a bias against private investment in infrastructure and uses all this bragging about rich countries’ unfair behavior to deflect the attention from the real issues. Brazilian authorities taking right measures to correct our weaknesses would be a much bigger blow to U.S. agriculture than any WTO rule.”

Note: Because the e-mail writer said these were personal views and not those of his seed company employer (no, it’s not Monsanto), I have omitted his name and city.

e-mail: [email protected]

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