What Railway Deals Taught Chinese and Brazilians in the Amazon

ADRIANA ERTHAL ABDENUR, MAIARA FOLLY, MAURÍCIO SANTORO (CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE)

Over the past decade, Chinese investments in Brazil have expanded and diversified considerably, especially ones involving infrastructure. Chinese investors have also diversified geographically. Increasingly, major Brazilian infrastructure projects are being planned or implemented with Chinese backing in environmentally sensitive regions such as the Amazon rain forest and the Cerrado, a large savanna region in Central-West Brazil.

Chinese actors have become directly involved in such projects against a backdrop of sharpening debates about sustainability and other consequences of large-scale infrastructure projects. This is especially true in protected areas such as land populated by Indigenous groups and conservation units. A notable example is the Ferrogrão project, a major railway line designed to cross sections of the Amazon and Cerrado to deliver goods to Brazilian ports.

This paper examines the diverse ways that Brazilian and Chinese actors have learned from each other as they negotiate the terms of these deals. It also explores how these learning processes have been conditioned by intense domestic political debates over these projects in Brazil. Official documents and secondary sources reveal that, rather than a set Chinese way of doing business or a stock Brazilian response, such projects entail dynamic institutional learning. Such learning is shaped not only by the particulars of the Ferrogrão project but also by Chinese actors’ broader engagement with Brazilian infrastructure projects over the past ten years.

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