January 2, 2019 / 3:40 PM / 20 days ago

Brazil farm minister defends environmental laws, praises agricultural sector

BRASILIA (Reuters) - New Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias sought on Wednesday to defend the farm sector from accusations it has grown at the expense of the environment, saying the country has some of the world’s toughest environmental laws.

Sworn in as part of new President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, Dias used her inauguration speech to promise a streamlining of bureaucracy and increased rule of law in the agricultural sector.

In comments to reporters after her speech, she said that a transfer of power over indigenous land right claims to the Agriculture Ministry, outlined in an executive order from Bolsonaro, was a new responsibility for the ministry. However, she indicated that in practice the demarcation of land limits would fall to a council of ministries.

The temporary decree, which will expire unless it is ratified within 120 days by Congress, strips power over land claim decisions from indigenous affairs agency FUNAI.

“Brazil is a country with extremely advanced environmental legislation and is more than able to preserve its native forests,” Dias said in her speech. “Our country is a model to be followed, never a transgressor to be punished.”

She also heaped praise on Brazilian farmers and the technological innovation they have used to boost yields, saying they “instill fear” in competitors. She added that Brazil’s naturally favorable soil and weather conditions are a boon to farmers.

“Brazil has grown its production through efficiency gains and practically without increasing [planted] area,” she said.

Dias added that the strength of Brazil’s powerful agricultural sector had generated “unfounded accusations” from international groups, which she did not name.

Reporting by Marcela Ayres; Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry

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