By Jake Spring
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Chinese and Brazilian companies could form soy-processing joint ventures as a way for Latin America's largest economy to export more processed soymeal to its top buyer of raw soybeans, a senior Chinese diplomat in Brazil said in an interview.
Chinese firms overwhelmingly process soybeans in domestic plants rather than buying soymeal directly from Brazil, but companies will choose whatever gives them the best profits, said Qu Yuhui, minister-counsellor in charge of political affairs at the Chinese embassy in Brasilia.
"If a Chinese and Brazilian company together found a joint venture in Brazil to process soybeans, that is a good choice for both side's profits," he told Reuters, adding that such a partnership could ease the burden of Brazilian logistics costs.
Still, Qu said there are no discussions currently for China to give Brazil a soymeal quota with a lower import tax.
Chinese investment in Brazil jumped in 2017 to a seven-year high, stoking debate over bilateral relations ahead of the Brazilian presidential election in October. Chinese purchases of land and mining operations have drawn criticism from right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is leading the race.
"China isn't buying in Brazil, it is buying Brazil. This is a big problem that we should be worried about," Bolsonaro said during a recent television interview.
Qu said it was hard to understand the root of Bolsonaro's concern. Chinese buyers account for just 3 percent of foreign land purchases in Brazil, he said.
He said China and Brazil would continue to work toward mutual development regardless of who wins the election, adding that the countries' two-way trade is expected to grow 25 percent to $110 billion in the next two to three years.
Qu said it is too early to say if U.S.-China trade disputes will have an impact on China-Brazil trade, which was already growing quickly before the current spat.
In addition to booming demand for Brazilian soy and corn, Qu said growing Chinese consumption will boost trade in fruits, chicken, pork and beef.
The surge in bilateral trade has not been without friction.
China imposed anti-dumping measures on Brazilian chicken in June, while a sugar tariff has weighed on Brazil's exports of the sweetener to China.
"I am relatively optimistic that this problem should be able to get an appropriate solution in a relatively short period of time," he said regarding Brazil's sugar exports. He expressed similar sentiment about the chicken trade.
(Reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Diane Craft)