The global geography and political economy of food and farming are shifting dramatically. US and European companies dominated international markets during the 20th century, but now a new world order is emerging with growing exports from Brazil and mushrooming imports from China. These new trade flows are intimately associated with transformations in local environments and global politics, and they have been driving high-profile Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness during the past decade. During this period, a powerful discourse emerged that China is the leading “land grabber” in Brazil, which in turn empowered a far-right movement against Chinese investments and the Brazilian leftist governments that cultivated closer Brazil-China political relations. In this lecture, Oliveira discusses how we should understand these political, economic, and ecological processes that connect China and Brazil, and transform global relations. Most narratives highlight the abundance of natural resources in Brazil, and the scarcity of land in China, as a natural basis for the “comparative advantage” that drives such trade and investments. Oliveira argues this “naturalizes” a new and radically fabricated agro-ecological arrangement of people, plants, animals and industries in Brazil, China and elsewhere; and in fact, they do not identify the fundamental drivers of this global agro-industrial restructuring. As he explains, China’s massive imports from Brazil stem from its rapid urbanization and a shortage of rural labor, while Brazilian exports do not result from an abundance of land and natural resources, but rather from the forced dispossession of peasants from their land and the wholesale sacrifice of vulnerable ecosystems. Moreover, Chinese investments in farmland largely failed to materialize, and linger far behind land grabs by investors from the US, EU, Japan, and even Latin America itself. Instead, successful Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness have focused on trading infrastructure, which places them as a component of China’s attempt to reorganize global trade and geopolitics through its New Silk Road projects.


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