Carmelo Ruiz: China in Latin America
CHINA SYNDROME: China’s Growing Presence in Latin America
Posted on: April 12 2011 by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
For four centuries before the 1898 Spanish-American war, Europe was practically the only destination of Latin America’s much-coveted raw materials, from gold and silver to sugar cane and spices. Then in the 20th century the United States took Europe’s place as main importer of these commodities.
Now in the 21st century, China is fast overtaking and displacing both the United States and Europe in Latin American trade. Latin American business elites and governments on the left and the right, hungry for foreign investment and exchange, welcome the opportunity to do business with the Chinese. But environmentalists and progressives in the region are concerned about China’s growing influence, decrying that much of its investment is going into environmentally unsustainable activities and is putting local and national sovereignty into question.
According to Argentina’s Grupo de Reflexión Rural, “unconditional set-asides of land for China to produce Roundup Ready soy represent an immeasurably greater risk than the impacts of large-scale chemical agriculture itself. If this project goes ahead, an enclave would be formed in Patagonia on a scale similar to what China and several European countries are doing in Africa; namely, they are buying up and taking vast areas of land out of circulation to meet their own food and forage production demands.”[v]
The Rio Negro deal is part of a larger worldwide phenomenon documented in recent years by NGO’s such as GRAIN, La Via Campesina and the Oakland Institute, known as the ‘global land grab’. Farmland-poor, heavily populated states with emerging economies, such as China, India, South Korea and the Persian Gulf states, are buying or leasing farmlands in poorer countries, mainly in Africa and South America, to insure their food security. These are joined by speculators and hedge funds that view farmland as a sure bet among volatile markets.
China is the leading player in this land grab. “China is ostensibly self-sufficient in food, but its population is gigantic, its farmland is disappearing under the encroachment of industry, its water supply is under intense pressure, and the Communist Party has a long-term future to think about”, says GRAIN. ”With 40% of the world’s farmers but only 9% of its farmland, China has understandably made food security one of the main points on its agenda. And with over $1.8 trillion in currency reserves, China has enough money to invest in its own food security overseas.”