Department of Global Development Studies


Global Development Studies

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Gustavo de L. T. OliveiraDeveloping Extractivism: Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness and infrastructure for South American integration

Presented by:  Dr. Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira, Consortium for Faculty Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Swarthmore College

South America became a major supplier of soybeans, iron ore, petroleum, and other agroindustrial and mineral commodities to China since 2000. Since then, Chinese companies began seeking investments that could secure flows and profits from these commodities across the continent. When Chinese investments spiked in Brazil around 2010, however, they triggered widespread concern that such resource-seeking investments and “land grabbing” for agricultural exports would further “de-industrialize” Brazil and condemn the country to a neocolonial dependence on natural resource extraction with high environmental costs but low value added or domestic employment. In my doctoral research, where I combined political economy with critical global ethnography in 20 months of fieldwork in Brazil and 7 months in China, I investigated all Chinese agribusiness investments in Brazil and revealed that large-scale land grabs have not actually characterized the core of this phenomenon due to managerial incapacity of Chinese investors and social resistance that triggered government restrictions on acquisition of farmland, disproportionately affecting Chinese companies. Yet another set of Chinese investors pursued distinct strategies through transnational mergers and acquisitions of transnational companies operating up- and downstream from farming itself, and successfully gained significant market-share and strategic footholds in Brazilian agribusiness through their Brazilian-operated subsidiaries. While the latter also escaped social resistance, they nevertheless accelerate agroindustrial extraction from Brazil, and consolidate the power of transnational elites emerging from China and Brazil to set their countries’ model of development. In my new research project, I extend this research to a political ecology of infrastructure for South American integration – and outline here the foundation for my investigation of how an influx of Chinese capital is expanding the development of fluvial ports and waterways on the Plata basin to facilitate extraction of mineral and agroindustrial resources from Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay, enabling them to be exported to China from new deep-water ports in Argentina and Uruguay. Altogether, this research trajectory reveals some of the most significant new transformations in the international political economy of natural resource extraction through agroindustrial expansion and infrastructure development.

Please join us on Friday November 10, 2017 in Dunning Hall, Room 14 from 9:15 AM to 10:45 AM