When I was last in China, my rule was to never ask what's on the plate. Just eat it. And, hey, most of it was good. That's the nice thing about eating lots of grass-fed beef with the Brazilians. You never have to wonder what the heck that is on your plate.
China is on everyone's mind here these days because Brazil's soybeans are coming in just as the country's president, Dilma Rousseff, is headed there—where a good part of those soybeans will end up. Rousseff, and some 300 Brazilian business types looking for deals - will also meet with representatives of the other BRIC nations, as well as South Africa. But there's little doubt, as the harvest here finishes up, which of the BRIC nations she'll spend most of her time wooing. China became Brazil's top trading partner back in 2009, passing the United States.
It's a long flight, though, and so maybe she'll have time to read a report on Sino-Brazilian trade that one of her economic agencies put together for her. It's the report that says that, while trade with China is booming, they're mostly buying low-tech stuff. Report authors say, "It can be affirmed that over the last 10 years, for each dollar that Brazil gets from its exports to China, 87 cents comes from commodities and manufactured products intense in natural resources."
After all, it is reported that the Chinese took more than 54 million tonnes of Brazilian beans last year alone.
Those imports have been growing. In fact, 23% of Brazil's growing total of exports to China (more than 15% of all Brazil's exports currently go to China) in 2010 was oilseeds. In the decade ending in 2010, total exports went from $1.1 billion, to $31 billion. And 23% of 31 billion is a lot of beans.
Meanwhile, the report says the Chinese may own up to 17 million acres of Brazilian farmland for producing those beans and other commodities. And some time this month, a group of Chinese technicians is slated to visit the Brazilian state of Goiás in order to evaluate the feasibility of a plan to invest $4.24 billion to increase that state's soybean production—and directly import six million tonnes of soybeans a year from there. The plan envisions doubling the state's soybean production by 2018. The projected Goiás bean harvest this year is 7.8 million tonnes, on 6.3 million acres.
Right now, that's a good deal for a state like Goiás, which has at least seven million acres of underused pasture—with about one animal for every 2½ acres, according to a report.
And so Brazil's Dilma and China's Hu Jintao would seem to fit as nicely as pot stickers and soy sauce. But I would just warn President Dilma: In the case of China's voracious appetite for control of basic commodities, don't ever just eat whatever's on the plate they hand you. There is likely to be a bill due when you're finished dining at the Chinese buffet, and it's better to know what you're swallowing.
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