Brazil's trade with China: donkeys as an addition

Background

Despite criticism of China's growing influence in Brazil, Brazil's role as an exporter of raw materials and trade relations with the Asian giant were further consolidated in the first year of the Bolsonaro administration. China not only imports Brazilian beef and soya, but is also interested in the donkeys that are widespread in northeastern Brazil, whose skin is the basic ingredient for gelatine used in the production of cosmetics. The free-living animals are caught and given to China as a kind of addition.

Esel in Südamerika
This is an automatically translated article.
Translated with DeepL.

In 2019 Brazil exported goods worth 63 billion US dollars to China - almost 30 percent of all Brazilian exports. At the top of the list of exported goods are soybeans, beef and chicken, along with crude oil and iron ore. More than half of all Brazilian soy exports went to China in 2019. China's share of beef is lower (about 25 per cent), but at almost 500,000 tonnes, it was up 50 per cent on the previous year. Total Brazilian beef exports in 2019 amounted to almost two million tonnes.

China remains the most important consumer of Brazilian raw materials

Despite President Bolsonaro's repeated criticism of Brazil's dependence on China, Brazil's role as an exporter of raw materials and trade relations with the Asian giant were further consolidated in the first year of Bolsonaro's administration. China remained Brazil's most important trading partner. Although China has already announced interest in renegotiating prices, it is expected that Meat production and its export also in 2020 more increase will be and the agribusiness The following are the business relations between Brazil and China continue to determine the future will.

Brazilian donkeys for Asian medicine and cosmetics

But China does not only import Brazilian beef. There is also great interest in donkeys, which are widespread in the north-east of Brazil and whose skin is the basic ingredient for the production of ejiao - a gelatine used in Asian medicine and cosmetics, which reached a trade volume of 5.5 million US dollars in 2018.

As China does not produce enough donkeys to meet demand, companies began to look for donkeys in other countries. In Brazil, these animals are not bred, but caught wild. In this way there are hardly any production costs. The Brazilian government signed an agreement in 2017 to meet the Chinese interest and authorise the slaughter of donkeys, but without laying down rules to prevent the animals from becoming extinct.

The slaughterhouses planned to export 200,000 donkeys per year

Between 2017 and 2018, more than one hundred thousand slaughtered donkeys passed through the cold stores of the state of Bahia. The slaughterhouses had planned to export 200,000 donkeys per year for the Asian market. This number would have meant that in less than five years the species would have disappeared from the Brazilian northeast, where 90 percent of the country's population lives. For this reason, and because of the negative headlines about the mistreatment of donkeys during transport, the Bahian judiciary stopped the slaughter in a preliminary ruling for about a year.

By a new ruling in September 2019, slaughter was reopened and the entrepreneurs concerned began to organise themselves to keep up with the export frequency expected by China. In the event that demand and profits were sustained, they promised "future production" of donkeys.

However, animal welfare associations, researchers and veterinarians do not believe that breeding will become established and even less that this would be a better fate for these animals, which are now abandoned on the roads because they have been replaced by motorcycles as a means of transporting loads. The export chain of donkeys is purely extractive at the present time. They are caught in the wild virtually free of charge, only to become money after slaughter.

"You can eat cattle or fowl, but not donkeys."

For the people from the northeast of Brazil, the donkey - called jumento or jegue in the north - has such a high personal value that they would never sell its skin or meat as a by-product or as food. This is not part of the Brazilian culture and is even considered a sin by many people. "This animal carried Jesus on its back," say people from the Sertão, a region characterized by the hot and dry climate. There the donkey also adapted perfectly when he came to Brazil with the colonizers.

"Have mercy", "Hail Mary" and "Holy Father in Heaven" can be heard in the Sertão when people talk about slaughtering a donkey. At the market of Euclides da Cunha, in the state of Bahia, many people used to use the donkey as a workhorse in the past. "I have transported a lot of water on a donkey. God forbid to slaughter the poor animal," says 73-year-old Genival da Oliveira. "Whoever slaughters him must answer to God for it. You can eat cattle or poultry, but you can't eat donkeys," says Juscelino de Jesus, 44, who received an offer from traders to sell his donkey for 20 reals. He refused, because he wants to look after him until the end.

Brazil needs a strategy

Brazil will soon have to define its objectives for trade relations with China. This also means defining what one is prepared to give up and rethink in order to do big business with the Asian giant. So far, trade has had at least two noticeable negative effects: donkeys are being sacrificed for trade relations and Brazilians are paying a premium on the price of beef because much of it is shipped to China.

Brazil needs a clear strategy for dealing with its trading partner China, says Rubens Antônio Barbosa, a diplomat and former ambassador of Brazil in Washington. "Brazil must try to find market niches in the industrial sector, because currently most of the products exported to China come from agriculture," Barbosa said. The trade agreement between China and the US could lead to a decline in Brazilian soybean and corn exports, as China wants to import more of them from the US in the future.

A trade strategy vis-à-vis China that focuses exports on industrial goods instead of raw materials would possibly also benefit the donkeys in the northeast of the country and prevent further population decline through uncontrolled slaughter.