BRASILIA, Brazil — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang began a three-day visit to Brazil on Monday armed with a promise of some US$50 billion in infrastructure investments as his hosts finalise preparations for next year's Rio Olympics.
Li will hold talks on Tuesday with President Dilma Rousseff, for whom the investment bonanza will be a major boon as Brazil battles a fifth straight year of poor growth and spiralling inflation.
The Chinese leader will then head for Rio to see some of China's investment in the city, due to host South America's first ever Olympic Games in August 2016.
On Thursday, Li will continue a Latin American swing designed to increase Chinese influence in the region, heading to Colombia before visiting Peru and Chile.
His tour comes days after Beijing signed accords worth $25 billion with Russia and $22 billion with India.
Chinese trade with Brazil has grown exponentially over the past decade, with the Asian giant becoming Brazil's main trading partner in 2009.
Trade between China and Latin America as a whole exploded from barely $10 billion in 2000 to $255.5 billion to 2012.
Boom in Sino-Brazilian trade
Sino-Brazilian trade mushroomed from $6.5 billion in 2003 to $83.3 billion in 2012, though China is just the 12th largest investor in Brazil.
"The trade agenda is very important – but at the moment the investment agenda is to a degree more important still," Trade Minister Armando Monteiro said.
Jose Graca Lima, head of Asian affairs in the Brazilian foreign ministry, said that a "second generation" of Chinese investment is under way.
The first involved trade in raw materials and the focus now is on heavy industry and infrastructure.
Brazilian growth rose prior to the current slowdown amid high Chinese commodity demand that has since dropped off.
But Brazilian financial daily Valor quoted Chinese ambassador and former vice-foreign affairs minister Li Jinzhang as saying that the "overdependence on commodity trade could not continue and needed to be transformed" on a wider scale.
Despite that comment, Li Keqiang earlier told Valor in an interview that, despite commodity price volatility, "healthy Chinese demand for these products will hold up long term."
One major mooted long-term infrastructure project is a proposed Chinese-financed $10 billion rail link stretching some 3,500km from the key Brazilian port of Santos to the Peruvian Pacific port of Ilo via Amazonia. — AFP