USDA, Brazil reach agreement on 'thistle' war

Brazil had issued an order for a temporary suspension of U.S. wheat shipments after Argentina informed the Brazilian government that it found Canada thistle seeds in a shipment of U.S. wheat to Argentina. Argentina and the United States compete for wheat sales in South America.

Representatives of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and the Federal Grain Inspection Service asked for a meeting with their Brazilian counterparts and began negotiations to resolve the dispute, according to U.S. Wheat Associates.

A U.S. Wheat Associate spokesman said trade disputes with Brazil are becoming an almost annual affair, but that the quick work of USDA appears to have averted a stoppage -- this time.

“Brazilian authorities seem to find a new reason to interfere with trade every year to 18 months, and this is completely unacceptable,” said Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates.

“This latest stoppage came in the midst of a very successful U.S. wheat selling program in Brazil, which has outpaced sales in any year in recent history.”

Tracy said U.S. wheat has displaced a substantial amount of Argentine wheat in Brazil with 607,000 metric tons shipped since the beginning of the wheat marketing year on June 1 and another 115,000 metric tons booked for later delivery.

The North American continent has had infestations of thistle for 300 years, according to a Wheat Associates spokesman, and research indicates that it is a weed found on several continents. “Brazilian authorities have known about thistle seed since wheat trade began years ago, and Brazilian customers have been using U.S. wheat without the complaints voiced by the Agentinians.”

“We are in discussions with USDA officials and are heartened by their support for U.S. wheat,” said Tracy. “In our view, the timing and circumstances of the Brazilian stoppage look suspiciously unrelated to the thistle.” (His comments were made before USDA and Brazil reached an agreement on the dispute.)

Wheat farmers are not the only U.S. growers who have faced market disruptions because of actions by the Brazilian government.

Brazil has filed a complaint against U.S. cotton farmers with the World Trade Organization. The complaint charges that the U.S. Government’s cotton program is responsible for low world cotton prices.

Brazil has also issued new pest risk assessment rules for imported cotton that will go into effect Nov. 27. Analysts say the Brazilian rules are not currently well defined and may violate the WTO’s Phyto-Sanitary regulations.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) sent a letter to Brazilian officials, noting that cotton is a processed product and should not require a pest risk assessment. The Brazilians have not responded to the letter.

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