The head of the China Center at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture Larissa Wachholz has said the Asian country will continue to have a great appetite for Brazilian commodities despite the challenges of guaranteeing sustainability in meat and soybean production chains.

Speaking in an interview with Diálogo Chino, Wachholz said China is becoming more demanding in terms of sanitary requirements, but that it should not impose sustainability clauses, such as enhanced traceability of meat produced in the Amazon. According to her, it would hinder the country’s access to items “absolutely necessary” for its population.

China drove record exports for Brazilian agribusiness in 2020, and for Wachholz, the launch of China’s new Five Year Plan means new opportunities.

“From the document we saw, there are three points that are very interesting for Brazilian agriculture and cattle ranching. First, it is very interesting to see a huge emphasis on fighting poverty and on rural revitalisation. We are faced with this same issue and we are working to advance in this area as well. In Brazil, the capacity to generate employment and increase income in cities that have developed from the economic growth of agribusiness is well known. We even see the improvement of the human development indexes (HDI) from agribusiness in certain regions of the country.

“Second, it is worth thinking about one of the premises of our low-carbon agriculture plan, the ABC Plan. Brazil has the opportunity to show the sustainability of its agriculture. We have the capacity to produce and increase the production of carbon-neutral products. Embrapa [Brazil’s agribusiness research institute] has already delivered a carbon-neutral meat protocol, which is already in use by the private sector. Today, consumers in some Brazilian cities already have the opportunity to go to the supermarket and buy carbon-neutral meat. The big challenge of carbon-neutral production is to achieve scale. And maybe we have an opportunity for collaboration between China and Brazil in the expansion of programmes that allow us to increase production.”

While noting that the country is a leader in the use of biofuels and in the production of biodiesel, she said agriculture is contributing to the reduction of emissions even in other sectors.

“With this, I am not saying that we don‘t have great challenges ahead. We do. Especially the fight against illegal deforestation. And we have great work to do to fully implement the Forest Code.

“Finally, food security and stimulating China’s internal consumption are two aspects that have already been present in previous [Five Year] plans and that also help tell the story of the relationship between Brazil and China in agribusiness. Our agricultural exports are fundamental for guaranteeing China’s food security, which is an absolutely strategic objective for Chinese society. And even during this most recent pandemic period, Brazil’s exports, not only to China, but to the world, were maintained. Our contracts were all fulfilled.”

When asked how Brazilian soybean and cattle producers and suppliers prepared in technological and financial terms to adapt their production systems if China implements tougher sustainability clauses, she said this has already reflected in Brazil, citing the case of Cofco International’s soybean purchases.

“From my point of view, this movement [towards tougher sustainability requirements] does seem to be strengthening, but I would be very careful about the timing. The absolute priority for China remains food security. I don’t see China imposing clauses that would make it difficult for its own access to items that are absolutely necessary to ensure its food security. What I think can happen, and I think it is a great opportunity for Brazil, is, based on this greater discussion about environmental issues in China, to show the Chinese our capacity to also deliver products that are carbon neutral.

“We have techniques, we have the technology, we know how to do it, but in order to have scale, it will require more resources. So, I think there is a possible area of collaboration between Brazil and China, which is to give scale to the initiatives that we already have here in Brazil.

“I don’t see China imposing clauses that cannot be fulfilled, I don’t see China creating difficulties for itself to have access to products that are essential to its food security. What I do think is possible is that China will look for incentive mechanisms to increase the possible criteria for the products it buys.”

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