Brazilian police are cracking down on a longstanding practice: illegal pesticide smuggling in from China.
Since early August, Brazilian police have launched the second phase of an operation to break up a criminal network dedicated to pesticide smuggling with ties to China and Paraguay.
Police raids were carried out in the northern state of Mato Grosso, the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul and the southern states of Paraná and São Paulo, targeting both national and regional suppliers of illegally obtained pesticides, according to a police press release.
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This follows a separate operation to combat the illegal pesticide trade in July called “China Business II," Globo reported. That month, a string of raids was carried out in the northeastern state of Bahia to clamp down on illegally imported and counterfeit pesticides smuggled in from China.
And both of these build on a six-year investigation that began after authorities identified a scheme to smuggle pesticide chemicals into Brazil in shipments of mangoes. A criminal group mixed these chemicals with pesticides that are legally available in Brazil. The illicit mixture was sold on in reused Brazilian packaging to make it appear legal, Globo revealed.
InSight Crime previously reported on how the growing black market for pesticides had led to large robberies in Brazil while the country was also cracking down on agricultural products smuggled in from Paraguay. The nation’s biggest gangs, including the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and the Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), are involved in the trade.
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Most illegal pesticides smuggled into Brazil are originally sent from China and India to a lesser extent.
Industry experts are alarmed due to the rising market share of illegal pesticides. They accounted for 24 percent of all pesticides used in Brazil in 2019, according to the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo - FIESP). The use of illegally sourced pesticides in Brazil represented a total cost of $4 billion to the nation, according to 2020 seizure data.
They usually pass through the nation's borders with Uruguay and Paraguay, where regulations on these products are laxer.
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To be sold legally in Brazil, agricultural products must undergo tests to safeguard consumer health and the environment. These raise prices and demands on producers and sellers, making them much more expensive than contraband pesticides that do not go through quality control. The chemicals smuggled from China thus sell easily.
Criminal groups have long exploited this Chinese connection. In 2015, a network dedicated to the illegal smuggling of the "Herbex" herbicide – popularly known as pó da China, or “Chinese powder” in Brazil - into the Brazilian state of Pará from Uruguay and Argentina was broken up.
The trade runs alongside a thriving legal market, where agricultural products are exported from China to feed Brazilian demand.
Despite the recent raids, the illicit trade shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“The smuggling of pesticides is growing in the country at the rate that Brazilian agriculture grows … This smuggling has become a major concern as it is no longer a small market, but a large economy controlled by specialized gangs,” director of Brazil’s Institute for the Economic and Social Development of Borders (Instituto de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social de Fronteiras - IDESF) Luciano Stremel Barros, told the Brazilian Senate in September 2019.
Next month, federal inspectors from the nation's Ministry of Agriculture will have access to new spectrometers to check if chemicals passing through customs are legal or not.