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Brazil agriculture minister announces resignation

Written by: Staff

BRASILIA, Brazil, June 28 (Reuters) Brazil's farm minister today said he is resigning, while the country's soybean sector struggles to survive amid its worst crisis in decades.

Roberto Rodrigues, who has also overseen record Brazilian farm exports since taking the helm of the agriculture ministry in early 2003, said the exact date of his departure would still be negotiated with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The government has not yet announced a replacement.

''I consider my mission completed,'' Rodrigues told reporters, adding that there was ''no political component'' to his departure.

He also denied that he was leaving for personal reasons, as the agriculture ministry announced earlier in the day.

On several occasions in the past year or so, Brazil's local media has reported that Rodrigues was on the verge of resigning over frustration with the government's lack of funding for the agricultural sector.

''The time for the minister's departure has come, as he has tried but not obtained the measures necessary for the survival of farm production in Brazil from other sectors of the government,'' said Edivaldo Del Grande, president of Sao Paulo State's Cooperatives Organization.

In response to whether Brazil could expect changes in agricultural policy with his departure, Rodrigues said, ''No, absolutely not.'' Opposition party lawmakers are concerned that his post will be used in exchange for political support from other parties in the presidential elections in October.

''Our fear is the ministry will be stuffed or used as a bargaining chip in the elections,'' opposition party Congressman Ronaldo Caiado said.

Despite record farm export revenue in recent years, Brazil's grains sector is currently passing through its worst crisis in decades due to a weak dollar, high fuel and freight costs and heavy producer debt loads.

Rodrigues has consistently pushed for expanding government emergency aid packages to stave off wide-scale bankruptcy in the grains sector.

Rodrigues said that the agricultural sector under his watch has improved its capacity to store crops, track the origins of meat, and regulate genetically modified crops.

Reuters SK VP0215

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