CropLife Latin America

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Jose Perdomo

Original: S&P Global / IHS Markit.

Robert Birkett, Specialist Reporter

First up for discussion was the move by the Mexican Chamber of Deputies voting “in unanimity” for restrictions on highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). That followed the phase out order on glyphosate herbicide less than two years ago and increasing moves against chemical crop protection in the major ag economy.

Robert Birkett [RB]: Is the expectation that the Mexican Senate and President will approve the bill with those amendments?

Jose Perdomo [JP]: The Mexican Chamber of Deputies approved proposals to limit the use of highly hazardous pesticides. And you’re right, it was by unanimity including votes of opposition MPs. There is concern as the views of the Mexican government are heavily influenced by the agro-ecology movement.

Those views tend to be anti-corporation, and convinced that farmers can produce without technology. But look at the recent example of Sri Lanka, which decided to run an agriculture policy opposed to chemicals and fertilizer.

[Sri Lanka made an immediate ban on fertilizer use and on pesticide imports last year without even a phase-out, leading to widespread protests and a deep fall in rice production - editor.]

Those views are driving the move against HHPs and genetically modified crops. Mexico had a tradition of a modern, predictable regulatory framework. They are taking that framework backwards. Things are becoming unpredictable on agrochemicals and other technologies, putting in jeopardy even the medium- term production of crops in an efficient manner.

RB: Why did the proposal gain unanimity including of opposition MPs?

JP: The conservatives have long opposed the existing system as it was too slow. There are thousands of products in the approval process and inadequate authority resources to cope with it.

But I also think that is how politics works. Opponents of these proposals calculated that they could not win and so went along with the backing of the bill to gain something down the line. And it is true [behind the conservative opposition to existing regime, editor], there was room for improvement, but despite it taking a long time to approve products, it worked, and was based on similar processes and system to the [US] EPA, ie risk assessments. There was even collaboration with US agencies on registrations and testing.

RB: Is there a wider agenda from government and its supporters following the ordered phase-out of glyphosate and this bill on HHPs?

JP: The guiding principle is simple: the precautionary principle. If there is a risk, don’t take it! Of course, it should be about managing risk. Like I said, politically, the government has a large agro-ecology movement behind it that’s driving policy.

Our association has done tremendous work putting our message across, including government and new regulators. We have been in dialogue since 2019, thought we made headway, only for the government to reverse direction on glyphosate and GM maize. Some authorities do not want to listen. Nevertheless, associations such as CropLife and Mexico’s association (the PROCCyT) have to get a coalition together to maintain as many tools and technologies as they can as well as adopting newer technologies from GMOs to gene editing to keep producing strong harvests. Farmer association CNA, our industry association and others are working together to impress the idea that poor use of products rather than the products themselves is where the [negative] issues come from. I also believe it’s an orchestrated effort internationally against crop technologies. But without them, we would have to use more land.

RB: You mention alignment with the US. Can the moves be seen as influence from the EU over hazard criteria and moving towards its policy?

JP: The EU has a different agriculture to many in our region and other emerging economies with tropical agriculture. We need many products that perhaps the EU growers do not need so much. The EU with its proposed Green Deal and Farm to Fork policies [seeking the halving of overall pesticide risk and use within a decade] is moving towards hazard-based decision making and spreading that out to HHP restrictions. I do not see Mexico moving towards an EU-style system due to the complexities of our agriculture and that it would eliminate a lot of [the tools] what we need in our different climate, but the precautionary principle is a flag by ecology movement opposed to technology in ag.

I hope that Mexico does not go in that direction, but we have a challenge to maintain as many products as we can. The HHP bill threatens the continued registration of hundreds of active ingredients in Mexico.

The FAO is clear on its advice on HHPs. Proper and safe use with risk mitigation. This is a key area of CropLife’s training.

RB: When will the bill be debated in the Senate?

JP: September. The Senate reconvenes and will be assessing bills that are in the process such as this one. Unfortunately, politicians often do not know how technology is used in agriculture, look at the situation in Sri Lanka [repeating the warning for at least the third time]. We have been in dialogue since 2019, thought we made headway, only for the government to reverse direction on glyphosate and GM maize.

RB: You mentioned gene editing when you talked of new technologies. Are Mexican authorities also opposed to gene editing?

JP: [laughs]: We are still at first base, to use a baseball analogy. We need to work to keep existing technologies first. But on gene editing, the technology is advancing regionally. It has been approved in Honduras with a CRISPR-developed banana for the control of black sigatoka in the country. There are moves towards the technology’s acceptance in Guatemala and Nicaragua, too. As for Mexico, we’re even concerned that Mexico will not import maize from the US.

RB: Farmer education levels in Latin America have been cited over the impact of incorrect use of products, such as illiteracy hampering label understanding. Do you see that as a problem?

JP: There are higher levels of illiteracy in Latin America than in the US/EU. But associations carry out widespread training including virtual training. This [illiteracy complaint] is an excuse. These farmers have been using these products for years and know the risks, including those who are the illiterate. What drives the legislation in Mexico? We’d love to know. Perhaps it is populism which is growing around the world.

RB: CropLife has sounded the alarm over the constitutional convention in Chile. Why?


JP: What’s happening in Chile is also left populism. They are seeking to redraw the constitution. A plebiscite is due in September on new articles on a proposed new constitution. There are commissions discussing different areas of the constitution and their proposals are becoming heated and many have yet to come to conclusions. Once they have been prepared, they would go to Parliament to be ratified before being put to a referendum. Some of the commissions and articles of the constitution could have huge impacts on agriculture and the use of technology.

RB: What proposals for the constitution could impact ag technology and how?

JP: The proposals could lead to laws that change the registration of agrochemicals or the distances between the spraying of crops. We are in discussions with those commissions that could impact agriculture. For example, opening proposals would have seen the imposition of 12 km buffer zones around fields for spraying of crops. That would make ag disappear. There was some compromise, and they have gone for 5 km. But you can spray 50-200 km by tractor or plane in the US.

This sort of environmental over-protection is threatening agriculture. The movement to cut technology seems like what’s happening in Mexico. There is an agenda among government and its supporters against HHPs in Chile. But the urgency is heightened in Chile because of the attempted rewrite of the constitution and a permanent effect that that could have.

RB: How likely are these proposals to go ahead and how likely that a new constitution be ratified?

JP: There is belief that the constitution will be rejected by the population as many aspects are leaking to the media and online and encountering opposition. But
the work of commissions is still going on over various chapters to the proposed constitution.

The commissions are picking the areas where they can advance their agenda. The people already backed by
a referendum a debate and a potential new proposed constitution that would go to a further plebiscite. But Parliament must first vote on whether to ratify the proposals before they can go to a popular vote, and many MPs may vote against the proposals before any referendum can go ahead. It is very uncertain as yet with several obstacles.

RB: From Mexico in the north to Chile in the south; do you see a wave of such policy in Latin America?

JP: I think you see it globally. Where are such products more often used? In the tropics where pests evolve quickly. There are efforts too in Peru, Costa Rica and Guatemala. No due diligence, just decrees.

RB: How would the EU’s Green New Deal impact on Latin America ag?

JP: It could be huge. Commissioners come to Latin America and tell us how it is going to be, and despite opposition from 12 EU member states to the proposals. They are removing maximum residue limits (MRLs) on three key products for use in tropical agriculture, such as in coffee, that would cause a lot of issues for banana growers, too. They include thiamethoxam and chlorothalonil. There are already restrictions on mancozeb that is impacting banana growers. MRLs are an issue for us.

Delegates from Ecuador, which leads on bananas, have gone to the EU to explain their concerns, but no one is paying attention. The EU is telling us all how to use technology. They are talking of cancelling neonicotinoids, but then grant permits to growers in France.

Farmers in Europe have a lot to say on the issue. They do not want to import the crops [from Latin America] that they are restricted from growing.

We advocate across the region with support from many governments and groups elsewhere to use the [UN FAO] Codex system, it’s a proven regime. Many countries outside of the EU are working together to try to go in that direction. Farmers don’t waste resources. They make right application rates. It is more often smallholders whom we need to work with as the largeholder growers are making most profits as they are more efficient in the use of technology. Some 40% of Latin American farmers are smallholders. They could triple their production with more efficient use of technology, and that needs to be a key area of our outreach work.

But the European Commission wants its own way. Imposing 0.01 mg across the board will have enormous impacts. The Ukraine crisis demonstrates we have to be prepared to produce more.

RB: Is the EU regulatory framework hitting Latin American ag outside of EU-bound exports?

JP: No. But coffee, citrus, flowers, avocadoes, fruits are impacted as a large proportion goes to EU. The same will happen to Asian and African farmers. We are hearing about environmental criteria being discussed in the EU. That may expand the horizon of crops to be impacted. It’s a big unknown of concern.

But of course, not everything goes to the EU, with major markets for our produce in China and the US.

RB: Are sanctions or the Ukraine war harming Latin American ag?

JP: Nothing tangible is hitting Lain America. Except for the supply chain issues arising out of the Covid pandemic hitting us. And fertilizer issues from Russia are causing concern and uncertainty. Farmers who use technology need the fertilizer. In the short term, there is no major issue. But in the longer term, we are hearing farmers discussing reducing their use of fertilizer to save stocks for the next crop. This would be a risk to production.

There is little impact on our food supplies. The [war and ensuing lack of food deliveries] does not hurt us in the way it does countries such as Egypt.

But there is concern about food prices as food accounts for a large amount farmer incomes. Some countries, especially those with traditional ties to Russia are the most concerned. Mexico has a tradition of importing 30% fertilizer from Russia. A lot of flowers from Ecuador and Colombia went to Russia. So that trade is gone.

Very few countries in the region did not back the sanctions. Abstentions came from a few, Brazil, Mexico, and other countries with long term ties to Russia such as Venezuela.

RB: There were crisis policies in Colombia and Peru earlier this year to combat supply constraints from the past year and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Are there any new such policies?

JP: No. most countries have come out of lockdowns. Some such as Colombia, El Salvador, trying to give help to farmers due to fertilizer prices, but otherwise not much. Things are almost back to normal. Perhaps mask use and vaccines are not as high as they could be. There are widespread infections, but it is no
longer severe, more like a bad flu. It is weaker, turning to endemic.

RB: The world is suffering general inflation with many citing impacts from Covid and war. Are prices of crop protection products rising in Latin America?

JP: We have not seen anything major. What makes the news is fertilizer, which is sometimes confusingly reported as agrochemicals in South America. But the major rises are for fertilizer, while crop protection prices are up far less, perhaps 10%. In the short term, we are OK compared with the fertiliser sector. But for the long term, we don’t yet know.

RB: Are there demands for higher planting in response to food security fears emanating from the Ukraine war?

JP: We have not seen major increases in planting or intentions to plant. Nothing beyond the normal shifts between major row crops such as maize and soybeans, depending on international prices. No major trends yet. We’re expecting a good crop. But we will see.

RB: What’s been the experience with the adoption of GHS of labelling in the Andean nations following the approval of the “Manual Tecnico” two years ago?

JP: Two years ago, the Andean trading bloc of four countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia) approved the “Manual Tecnico” for adoption of the classification and labelling of pesticides under the GHS (Globally Harmonised System of classification and labelling). We are seeing transition beyond just adoption now. The direction is solid if at different speeds among member states.

We have invited retired technicians from the US EPA to train regulators among the member states to teach various aspects such CMR (carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic) labelling, re-entry permits, pre-harvest intervals etc. It has been a success with Colombia fully adopting measures and Ecuador moving in that direction. Authorities now have to put “manuals” into force.

What can hold up the system are such things as changes of government. Those who signed deals are replaced or new officials require the training that previous regulators had already had.

Each country moves at its own pace whether it is a five-year transition or can be done shorter or with more time, that is just a number. But, the direction is right. Each has own idiosyncrasy. Perhaps, Colombia is the most advanced, while Bolivia is behind largely due to regime changes. A permanent loop of training is part of CropLife’s role.

RB: And Central America is adopting similar harmonisation?

JP: Central America has nothing like the legislated system adopted in the Andean countries. It is voluntary, and we’re just at harmonisation of labels. We’re
stuck because after getting an agreement, Nicaragua backtracked and decided to do things differently within a voluntary framework. Dominican Republic came
late and wanted numbers of country registrations on labels, so we started with that. But El Salvador, Costa, Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama are adopting a system to some extent.

Everyone understands that it makes sense to have same labels.

RB: Argentina has created a law enforcing the recycling of pesticide containers. Which countries regulate this and to what extent has Brazil and its recycling organisation inpEV been a driver?

JP: In the case of Brazil, inpEV manages recycling and is the foremost agrochemical container recycling entity in the world. Nobody comes close. It has become the poster child for recycling.

We at CropLife advocated for the creation of law in Brazil around 2000 and the country passed legislation that forced everyone in chain under threat of penalties to recycle, and that is the secret of the success in Brazil.

We use Brazil and inpEV’s example in the rest of the region. We want a law. People think we don’t want laws. Not true, we’re the most regulated industry in the world – even than pharma. We must prove ourselves safe for not only humans, but for the environment, soils, water. The example of the law in Brazil has become a poster child for others to understand that they need to pursue a law. InpEV and the Brazilian regulation enforces all in the product chain to act correctly. It is a great example.

Many of the best practices that inpEV has developed and used, they have shared them and we have distributed them across regional countries.

RB: Which countries have laws and have they imitated the Brazilian example?

JP: Mexico passed a law in 2003, Colombia in 2007 and Argentina around 2016. There is a law in Uruguay and collections are improving each year.

In Brazil, they charge farmers for not disposing correctly. The InpEV has created a system that when a company sells to a farmer, they have to add the expected final destination of the packaging to the invoices. Containers are then tracked and inpEV would confirm receipt of packaging. If no receipt is given, the law goes after the farmer and fines. But despite some other countries passing laws to regulate the activity, Brazil is the only one that goes as far as that extent. And that explains its success. Brazil is unique. [Brazil has recycled 94% of containers for several years, editor]

Other countries have voluntary arrangements. Paraguay has a good system, but it remains voluntary; Bolivia is strong and improving but also voluntary. Argentina has the most recent law and is collecting in great proportions. In Central America, Guatemala collects the most. Their system charges a levy on imports, so that the whole of the sector pays a fee. That system is being copied in Honduras, while the Dominican Republic and Honduras governments have adopted CropLife’s Campo Limpio as their official system.

In the case of Brazil, the inpEV is independent. In other countries, systems are often linked to governments as a collaboration with industry.