New Political Leader for Brazilian Agriculture

Brazil's ag minister steps down under fire, but new minister Mendes Ribeiro may be more of the same.

The thing you've got to like about lobbyists is that they know how to throw a party. Nothing better than a summer party with legislators to get a little face time in which you can explain your pet legislative projects.

Well, there's almost nothing better than that. Except a lobbyist scoring his own office right in the Ag Ministry, or getting to fly the minister himself about on the company jet. Talk about your access!

That scenario is the reason why Brazil's Ag Minister Wagner Rossi stepped down last week after admitting at least one such jaunt in a jet owned by a company that had business dealings with the Ministry. He denied other charges, including stacking a Ministry agency with party cronies and unfair bidding processes.

Enter the new ag minister: five-term Congressman Mendes Ribeiro, a leader of former Minister Wagner Rossi's party in Brazil's governing coalition, and a congressman from the southern-most Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul until now.

Mendes Ribeiro isn't an ag type, but he's got one big advantage in taking over from Rossi: pundits here agree that he's close to President Dilma Rousseff. And that could make all the difference as Brazilian agriculture faces tough issues like the upcoming revamp of environmental legislation that requires all Brazilian farms to maintain a varying percent of their total acreage as a permanent and untouched environmental reserve.

Ribeiro hasn't had time to speak out much—he just got the call from President Rousseff last Thursday morning (August 18th)  -  but he has said he's out to "learn a lot" about farming, with an emphasis on "listening, listening and listening." Plus, he points out, he's from an important ag state. So hey.

One might interpret Ribeiro's selection as a sign that the administration isn't looking for any changes in Agriculture. The selection of a non-ag type necessarily means Ribeiro will, as he indicates, study from his predecessors and rely on the career staffers who do most of the work in any ministry.

And that likely means a change of style rather than a change of substance at the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry.

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