A Mandarin speaking trade specialist has been appointed by the Brazilian Agriculture ministry to boost exports to China, the world’s largest commodities market. Larissa Wachholz, 36, who holds a masters degree from the Renmin University of China, was tapped in December by the Brazilian agriculture ministry to lead a trade unit dedicated to the Asian country, the first of its kind in Brazil.
Her mission is to diversify Brazilian exports to its top trading partner beyond soybeans and beef, as part of a strategy to smooth out the ups and downs in trade flows between the countries.
Wachholz said Brazil lacks knowledge about China even as both countries trade over US$ 100 billion in goods per year and are members of the BRICS group. “We need to learn how to deal better with this partner.
Brazil’s push comes at a time when Chinese demand may falter as the Asian country battles the outbreak of a deadly coronavirus. It also takes place just as the U.S. is poised to displace some Brazilian exports of soybeans after signing a trade deal with China.
Wachholz said the deal between Washington and Beijing is a “matter of concern” but that Brazil is considering scenarios before reacting. “We are trying to understand the scope of the agreement and what could possibly change from now on.”
Sales of Brazilian soybeans to China, which had expanded since President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Beijing two years ago, are expected to return to pre-trade war levels. Exports of Brazilian beef are also seesawing. They soared more than 50% in 2019, driving meat prices as well as Brazil’s inflation up late last year, as China struggled to satisfy domestic demand for protein after the spread of African swine fever decimated its hog population.
Yet the Chinese are now seeking to renegotiate existing contracts as the surge in prices curbed demand there too.
“We knew it was a temporary gain, we never thought it would be a perennial situation,” Wachholz said. “The solution will be to redistribute this surplus to other partners.”
The creation of an unprecedented trade unit dedicated to a single country underscores a crucial change of strategy by President Jair Bolsonaro. While campaigning, he called the Chinese “heartless” and, even after taking office, said they were predators who wish not only to invest in Brazil but own it. Ties have since warmed up as China continued to devour an ever growing portion of Brazilian exports -- currently about 40% of them.
Since taking office in early 2019, Bolsonaro twice met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and, despite cozy ties with Trump, has so far refused to bow to U.S. demands to ban Huawei Technologies Co from bidding in a future auction to implement 5G technology in Brazil.