Voting in Brazil is not only compulsory, it's also 100% electronic, even in the remotest hinterland of the Amazon. The first round of presidential voting was to take place Oct. 6. If no one received more than half the vote, there would be a runoff between the two top candidates.

The front-runner at this writing is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, popularly known as “Lula.” The former union leader is trying to soften a radical past to win the presidency in his third bid for the office. Second, third and fourth places among early surveys belong to José Serra, Ciro Gomes and Anthony Garotinho, respectively. Serra is the charisma-free government candidate; Ciro is a Harvard-educated loose cannon; and Garotinho, former governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, is the evangelicals' candidate.

Most of the campaign debate has been on which candidate is the biggest liar. Still, there has been a point or two on ag policy, which is of interest to U.S. farmers.

Biotechnology

Leftist Lula says he is in favor of a moratorium on the planting of Roundup Ready soybeans in Brazil's southern states, “until we can better evaluate the situation.” He says Argentina and the U.S., big biotech soybean producers, are afraid Brazil will gain market share in Europe by offering non-biotech beans. Candidate Garotinho also says he thinks Brazil is gaining a competitive advantage over Argentina by not having yet allowed the commercial production of biotech soybeans.

On the pro-biotech side are government candidate Serra and his rival for second place, Gomes. Former health minister Serra, visiting a farm show in Brazil's south, was asked by a producer what he thought of biotech crops. He said that, while each case must be evaluated on its merits, certainly he was in favor of biotech soybeans and cotton in Brazil. “These (crops) were already tested in other countries,” he says. If this was a tepid response, check out Gomes. In July the former governor of the state of Ceará told Panorama Rural that he was in favor of at least allowing biotech research to continue. But, by September, he told the respected Isto É news magazine that he was in favor of biotechnology because it had helped cashew growers by greatly increasing yields.

FTAA And The European Union

None of the candidates is in favor of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), as proposed. Leader Lula calls FTAA an annexation of the Latin American economies to that of the U.S. The other candidates promise to renegotiate it. Interestingly, however, voters are hearing little complaint about speedy negotiations between the European Union and Mercosul (the trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). Negotiators hope to have a free trade deal with Europe by 2005, which could give South America an advantage in terms of soybean and soybean meal exports.

Export Policy

Rural credit and the Ministry of Agriculture's budget have been cut under the current government. And all of Brazil's major presidential candidates want to increase Brazilian exports — but not all have elaborated a program to actually do so. Program ideas are mostly vague promises — such as the desire to “promote exports” and cut export taxes.

All candidates, at a recent debate, agreed on at least a few key points. Under the leadership of any one of them, rural credit will increase, taxes will fall and farmers will have a leader in the capitol, fighting against unfair trade barriers abroad. I suppose, in the end, there isn't much difference between the Brazilian politicians and the U.S. variety.