President of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva concluded his China visit a few days ago. While this was his first China visit during his new presidential term, he had traveled to the Asian country three times during his two previous administrations, from 2003 until 2011. He paid two state visits in 2004 and 2009, respectively, while he also attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008. This is indicative of the diachronic importance President Lula attaches to Sino-Brazilian relations, which have thrived in the last 20 years.
World Bank data shows that Brazilian exports to China rose from $4.5 billion in 2003 to $63.3 billion in 2019, the year before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Brazilian imports rose from $2.3 billion in 2003 to $37 billion in 2019. During this timeframe, China became Brazil's biggest trade partner, beating out close-runners United States and Argentina. According to official statistics from Brazil, Brazilian exports, principally soy, ores, and oil, amounted to $89.7 billion, while imports were worth $60.7 billion last year.
As far as Chinese investments in Brazil are concerned, data showcases the progress. A study by the Brazil China Business Council demonstrates that the annual value of confirmed Chinese investments increased from circa $0.5 billion in 2007 to $7.3 billion in 2019. During this period, its value had been even higher. For example, in 2010, it reached $13.1 billion, and in 2017, it equaled $8.8 billion. The type of investments is multidimensional, covering sectors such as agriculture, electricity generation, information technology, finance, manufacturing, including different products such as machinery and paper, as well as oil and gas extraction and water collection. Although data for 2022 is not yet available, Chinese companies invested $5.9 billion in 2021, an indication of an upward trend after a natural drop in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Against this backdrop, it's unsurprising that Sino-Brazilian ties further improved during President Lula's recent visit. Only a few weeks prior, China had resumed imports of Brazilian beef, on top of a yuan clearing arrangement made by the two sides aimed at boosting trade. Now they are both determined to deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership 30 years after its establishment. The relevant joint declaration outlines aspects of their bilateral cooperation, for example, in digital and technological fields as well as in the context of climate change. This cooperation will also lead to more efficient coordination of multilateral formats at the UN, the G20, and the BRICS, among others. Synergies in other formats are also possible. A few months ago, President Lula talked about the likelihood of a free trade agreement between China and MERCOSUR, a union of four states made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay – at the proposal of Uruguay.
History – even modern history – provides the best way to look at the evolution of Sino-Brazilian relations. While much attention was recently paid to a new program of earth resource satellites (CBERS-6) between the two countries, the first of its kind had already been launched in 1999. Above all, the country's friendship endures and is outlined at difficult moments. In 2008, Brazil provided timely relief materials in response to the earthquake that hit areas in Sichuan, a gesture that the Chinese people will not forget. Meanwhile, China donated necessary medical equipment to different Brazilian states during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next year, 2024, marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-Brazilian diplomatic relations. The two countries are certainly on a good track to celebrate this anniversary with new bilateral achievements and objectives. There is no better indication than the third state visit of President Lula to China.
George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with China.org.cn.