Chilean agricultural minister resigns -

Chilean agricultural minister resigns

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Chilean agricultural minister resigns

José Antonio Galilea resigned as Chilean agricultural minister yesterday and was replaced by long-serving industry leader Luis Mayol.

Galilea was one of the few cabinet ministers retained by Sebastián Piñera after he assumed the presidency in 2010. The Agricultural Ministry (MINAG) told he resigned for family reasons.

During his time as minister, Galilea oversaw approval for Chilean blueberry access in China, spearheaded a milestone agricultural labor bill that is expected to boost flexibility and productivity in the industry, and pushed forward a national agricultural policy strategy which is still in the works.

The project proposes studies into the creation of an Agricultural Bank with extended benefits for forestry and Chilean food promotion abroad, as well as a document urging key bank BancoEstado to explore currency stabilization options. The move was largely a response to heated protests for agricultural reform in June.

Galilea's decision coincided with the resignation of Education Minister Felipe Bulnes, who has faced significantly larger protests of his own. Bulnes was replaced by Harald Bayer, who was admitted to the ministry in an official ceremony with Mayol yesterday evening.

Mayol was president of the National Agricultural Society (SNA) and is a lawyer and agricultural businessman. He has been linked to the SNA for 30 years, acting as an advisor for two decades and director on four occasions. The SNA presidency role will be filled temporarily until Jan. 9 by previous vice president Patricio Crespo.

He grows grapes and wine for export in the VI (O'Higgins) region, while he also farms cereals and livestock in the IX (Araucania) region. 20 years ago he was one of the pioneers of grape production and export in Copiapó.

Mayol will need to patch up some diplomatic spats from his life in the SNA, having heavily criticized Australia and New Zealand over respective rows over table grapes and kiwifruit. He even went as far to say that New Zealand's actions in the international kiwifruit market were "almost mafioso".

His strong words were in reference to Zespri's anti-competitive case in South Korean supermarkets, while he also said intervention might be necessary during an Australian scare campaign against Chilean grape imports earlier this year.

Industry response

Chilean fruit union Fedefruta welcomed Mayol's appointment, expressing confidence in his ability to do a good job.

"We want to express the most cordial welcome to the new minister Luis Mayol. Congratulations on your appointment. We hope to have the same close relationship and collaboration that we mainted with minister Jose Antonio Galilea," said Fedefruta president Antonio Walker.

"We are confident he can do a good job, advancing the main aspects to improve agriculture. He has a great knowledge of the sector and all the key issues. He can count on all the support of Fedefruta. We expect he will be a great minister."

The appointment has received criticism from the opposition Concertacion Party due to his interests in the private sector, but Walker says the move is encouraging.

"More than conflict of interest, what I see and celebrate is that people from the private sector give up their private interests by going public to support the public service, and in particular the development of Chilean agriculture."

Related stories: Chilean president signs 'milestone' ag labor bill

Chile's govt agrees to national agriculture policy

China opens up for Chilean blueberries

Chilean industry leader hits out at Australia, NZ

Chile's ag union 'concerned and annoyed' with govt inaction

Photo: SNA

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