Economics and Health

How Bolsonaro's pro-pesticide policy transfers wealth out of the country

Record exemptions favor transnationals; less than 13% of products are manufactured in the country

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
"The agricultural export model dries up national income", says researcher - Amy Baugess/ Unsplash

About 87.7% of the pesticides that were approved for use during the Jair Bolsonaro administration are produced outside of Brazil.

Since the start of the Bolsonaro government on January 1st, 2019, 945 new pesticide products have been approved by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) - a record when compared to previous governments. Of these, 580 products are manufactured in China, 116 in Brazil, 79 in India and 55 in the United States.

Lawyer, researcher and member of the São Paulo Forum to Combat the Impacts of Pesticides and Transgenics, Marcelo Novaes, points out that the record approval of insecticides and exemptions to the sector, “deplete national income” and transfer wealth abroad.

“This industry is part of the United States budget. Not in a positive way, as in contributing through taxation, but in the sense of receiving tax incentives of up to US $ 3 billion a year, leaving a void that needs to be paid for by all of society”, he analyzes.

The researcher recalls that in the 1960s, Brazil spent approximately US $ 40 million a year in pesticide imports. In 2020, the sum is estimated at over $ 7.2 billion.

Tax exemptions represent about 30% of that market. In other words, the country stops collecting taxes to stimulate the purchase of foreign materials used in grain production that will be destined, to a large extent, for the export market.

Since agribusiness also pays very little sales taxes, the only beneficiaries of this model are landowners, companies that export commodities and manufacturers of agricultural products.

The trade deficit in the Brazilian chemical industry jumped from US $ 1.5 billion in 1991 to US $ 29.3 billion in 2020, according to an estimate by the Brazilian Chemical Industry Association (Abiquim). The amount spent on imports is almost four times higher than that obtained with the sector's exports.

In other words, Brazil gives away land, and money through tax exemptions, then carries the burdens of the relationship: concentration of land, damage to workers' health and the environment, as well as an unfavorable trade balance.


Novas interprets that Bolsonaro's Agriculture Minister, Tereza Cristina, encourages the process of selling out to foreign businesses with the current agricultural model.

“Not that the previous [ministers] did not have this characteristic, it is in the DNA of our agrarian bourgeoisie. But Tereza Cristina ‘modernizes’ this and encourages foreign interference and influence of financial markets without shame, with much more competence, in line with [former Minister Blairo] Maggi’s policies”, he adds.

Of the 645 pesticides approved by the Bolsonaro government, 311 have components banned in the European Union due to their toxicity.

“It is not just a matter of protecting people’s health and the environment: the agro-export model dries up national income. It does generate great wealth, but it is sucked abroad by large exporters and foreign companies”, emphasizes Novaes.

Bolsonaro and China

This report used information from a database created by geographer Marcos Antonio Pedlowski, an associate professor at the North Fluminense State University (UENF).

In a recent interview with Brasil de Fato, the researcher drew attention to contradictions in the relationship between Bolsonaro and China.

In official speeches, and mainly, on social networks, the president has taken a stand against the CoronaVac – a vaccine against the coronavirus in advanced stages of testing – because of its Chinese origin. On the other hand, it does not adhere to the same “ideological rigor” in other sectors of the economy.

"This whole debate is a smokescreen", analyzes Pedlowski. “The Chinese are very efficient and have an overwhelming quantity of products to offer. Brazil has no way to 'get rid' of China, because our dependence on them is huge. Furthermore, the neo-liberalism defended by finance Minister Paulo Guedes, which places no limits on trade, enables China to do whatever it wants”.

Other data

Further analysis of pesticide manufacturers in Brazil reinforces the preponderance of the Asian giant in the sector. Of the top 10 pesticide manufacturing companies, four are from China and two belong to companies from other countries bought by Chinese investors - Adama (Israel), with 14 products, and Syngenta (Switzerland), with 16.

“The agricultural export model is chemical-dependent, and there is practically no national industry”, summarizes Novaes.

In the past 20 years, around 17,000 herbicide patents have been registered. Of these, only 170 are from companies with financed with national capital.

Among the 945 insecticide products authorized by the Bolsonaro government, 704 are manufactured in Asia, 59 in Europe and only six in other Latin American countries - two in Argentina, two in Mexico, one in Peru and one in Paraguay.

“It is not just a question of fighting against the manufacturers. There needs to be technological advancement, but we need technology that is not predatory to the environment nor harmful to people’s health”, concludes the researcher.

Edited by: Leandro Melito