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Cablegate: Brazilian Congress Passes Biosafety Law -- Victory

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 000573

SIPDIS

DEPT OF AGRICULTURE FOR FAS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV EAGR ECON PREL TSPL SOCI BR
SUBJECT: BRAZILIAN CONGRESS PASSES BIOSAFETY LAW -- VICTORY
FOR BIOTECH CROPS AND STEM CELL RESEARCH

REF: A. 04 BRASILIA 1971

B. BRASILIA 387
C. SAO PAULO 100

1. SUMMARY. On March 2, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies
overwhelmingly passed the Biosafety Law that regulates
biotechnology crops and stem cell research. After a year and
a half and competing versions in Congress, this was the final
vote, and President Lula is expected to sign it into law
quickly. The final text represents a victory for
biotechnology supporters (notably soybean growers) and a
setback for environmentalists and the left-wing of President
Lula's Workers' Party (PT). Industry analysts predict the
bill will have a large impact on Brazilian agricultural
production and exports. Post will follow with septels
providing detailed analysis of the law's agricultural and
scientific implications.

2. This is the first major piece of legislation passed in
the 2005 session of Congress, which is significant because
the new Speaker of the Chamber is Severino Cavalcanti, a
conservative opponent of stem cell research. Cavalcanti only
allowed the bill to come to a floor vote when confronted by
party leaders from both sides of the aisle supported by the
powerful farmers' caucus. Cavalcanti suffered another
setback earlier in the day when growing opposition forced him
to pull from consideration his personal priority --a big pay
raise for Congress. While overcoming the Speaker's positions
on these two measures is good news for the Lula
administration, the bills were singular cases, and do not
mean that the administration will win every battle. END
SUMMARY.

BIOSAFETY LAW - A YEAR AND A HALF IN CONGRESS
---------------------------------------------
3. On March 2, by a 352-60 vote, the Brazilian Chamber of
Deputies (lower house) gave final approval to the Biosafety
Law (PL 2401/03). The Lula administration in November 2003
sent the bill to Congress, and --with the support of leftists
and environmentalists-- the Chamber of Deputies quickly
amended it to make it more difficult to approve the use of
genetically-modified (GM) crops. That version went to the
Senate in 2004, where it was rewritten to make it more
favorable to the biotech industry (ref A). The Senate
version then went back to the Chamber for last night's final
vote and was approved without changes. The bottom line is
that under the new law, a GoB scientific panel (CTNBio) will
have final authority to approve biotechnology products.
Agencies more skeptical of biotechnology (notably the
Environment Ministry) will have input into the deliberative
process but not final authority. Thus, biotech supporters
believe that crop approvals will be based on scientific merit
rather than political pressures. Because the bill wallowed
so long in Congress, in the past two years President Lula has
issued special waivers to legalize the GM soy crop via
presidential decree. The new law makes future decrees
unnecessary. Via septels, post will provide translation and
detailed technical analysis of the Biosafety Law.

STEM CELL RESEARCH ISSUE GATHERED STEAM
---------------------------------------
4. Throughout 2003 and much of 2004, debate over the bill
focused exclusively on the issue of biotech crops and their
safety for humans and the environment, as well as the role of
large seed companies (read: Monsanto, ref C). Until
recently, the topic of stem cell research was a
little-noticed side note. But this morning's headlines in
all the national newspapers are variations on a theme:
"Congress Approves Stem Cell Research" --accompanied by
illustrated articles on potential medical benefits. The stem
cell issue gathered steam because of intense lobbying from
the medical and patients' rights communities, and more
recently because the new Speaker of the Chamber, Severino
Cavalcanti, is a bedrock conservative opposed to stem cell
research on religious grounds. Cavalcanti had loudly pledged
to keep the bill off the floor, but he was forced to back
down by an overwhelming alliance of the powerful farmers'
caucus (with 110-odd floor votes) and the many Deputies
across the spectrum who were convinced of the need for stem
cell research. The bill had significant support both in the
governing coalition and the opposition, and most of the 'nay'
votes came from leftists in the environmental wings.

LULA'S SUPPORT
--------------
5. President Lula is expected to sign the measure into law
quickly. He deployed cabinet members, including Science and
Technology Minister Eduardo Campos and Agriculture Minister
Roberto Rodrigues, to spend the day in Congress engaged in
last-minute arm-twisting. The big loser is Environment
Minister Marina Silva who pronounced herself "hurt" by the
vote and observed that last year Lula promised he would not
support the bill. But the vote comes as no surprise. It has
been widely-known for months that the bill would pass
overwhelmingly and early in the congressional session that
opened on February 15.

CAVALCANTI AND THE 2005 CONGRESS
--------------------------------
6. On February 14, Severino Cavalcanti of the conservative
Progressive Party (PP) was elected Speaker of the Chamber of
Deputies in a surprising vote (ref B). His election over a
candidate from Lula's PT party is a potentially serious
setback for the administration's legislative agenda.
Cavalcanti is an outspoken supporter of conservative causes
that seem likely to clash with the priorities of Lula's
government. Cavalcanti confidently announced that his first
priority as Speaker would be to pass a huge increase in
Congressional salaries and office budgets. But on March 2,
faced with a rising tide of resistance from within the
Chamber as well as opposition from the Senate President,
Cavalcanti backed down. "The raise is dead", he announced
grimly, "There won't be any raise".

COMMENT - CAVALCANTI'S SETBACKS NOT GOOD PREDICTORS
--------------------------------------------- ------
7. March 2 was a productive day in the Brazilian Congress.
Not only did the Deputies spike Cavalcanti's proposed pay
raise, but they also elected all the committee chairs for the
2005 session and approved the Biosafety Law. Passing with
85% of the floor votes, the Biosafety Law was the first major
piece of legislation approved this session. While the Lula
administration may be buoyed by the twin victories over
Cavalcanti, the two measures are unique and thus are not
reliable yardsticks to indicate that the Speaker will be easy
to move on future bills. The huge pay raise for Congress
never seemed likely to pass, and observers were more struck
by Cavalcanti's cheerful sans souci in pushing it than by its
quick death. The Biosafety Law was primed for easy passage,
as evidenced by its strong support on both sides of the aisle
and from the administration. As early as last August,
observers were predicting an easy floor vote. As such,
neither measure is a good predictor of how Cavalcanti and
Congress will react on closely-fought bills that cut down the
middle of Lula's coalition.
DANILOVICH

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