Acre was Brazil’s last major territorial expansion. Purchased from Bolivia at the beginning of the 20th century, it also borders Peru. In recent years, the expression “Acre does not exist” has been common in different regions of Brazil. Converted into jokes and memes, it pejoratively reflected its small population, low economic complexity, deficient infrastructure and, above all, ignorance of decadent regions struggling to get to know their own country.
Acre’s news to the Brazilian general public in recent years boils down to its constant flooding and the new migration route. Both phenomena are directly linked to the state bridges, which will have a new role due to the profound geo-economic change that Brazil is going through.
This Friday 7, the Abunã bridge in Rondônia will be inaugurated by President Bolsonaro. The 1.9 km project on the Madeira River will for the first time connect the capital of Acre with other capitals of the country without the need for a ferry.
The decision to build it was taken by President Dilma Rousseff in 2014, during a flood that left Rio Branco, the capital of Acre, isolated from other capitals in Brazil for 90 days. The critical situation of the Acrianos at that time was mitigated by the bridges of Epitaciolândia and Assis Brasil. Opened in 2004 and 2006, they linked Acre to Bolivia and Peru, respectively. These bridges built under the government of Lula as well as the paving of the BR-317 towards Assis Brasil, carried out under the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, guaranteed the supply of Peruvian fuel and Bolivian food to the people of Acre.
FROM DREAM TO DISILLUSION IN A DECADE
It was also the path for thousands of Haitians who emigrated to Brazil after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in 2010. They arrived after long journeys. They left by plane to Ecuador, with a stopover in Panama. Then they went overland through Peru to enter Brazil via Acre. Ecuador’s advanced migration policy and Brazil’s good economic performance made this route interesting. On February 14, 2021, foreigners on the binational bridge between Assis Brasil and Iñapari were again in the news.
Four hundred of them, mostly Haitians, but also from countries on the West African coast and from Indostanic countries, came from different Brazilian states after having stayed at different times in the country. Due to the restriction of the entry of foreigners into Peru, following the Covid-19 pandemic, migrants have been prevented from entering the neighboring country in order to continue their migration projects. They blocked the bridge for several days. They left Brazil without seeing the Abunã bridge inaugurated. Perhaps because of disillusionment with the public health crisis or rising unemployment.
There was little left. At the end of the Michel Temer administration, in December 2018, 85% of the Abunã bridge was ready and the inauguration was expected to take place in August 2019. After delays, additions and some postponements, and 117 years after the Treaty of Petrópolis which formalized the agreement between Brazil and Bolivia so that Acre is part of Brazilian territory, this state will be interconnected by roads to the Atlantic. Equally important, Rondônia, southern Amazonas, and northwestern Mato Grosso will have a fully paved path to the Pacific.
Brazil is heading west in economy, demographics and mainly exports. The current phase of this march is a consequence of internal industrial abandonment and the transition of the dynamic center of the world economy from the North Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific.
By isolating itself politically from South America and dismantling state support for the internationalization of its companies, Brazil has exacerbated the crisis in its industrial sector stifled by weak domestic growth. It is not for nothing that Brazil and Argentina are the two countries whose industrial sector has lost the most relative weight in the world over the past five years. The productive future of the country no longer seems concentrated in the Atlantic.
Between 2000 and 2010, all regions of Brazil increased, and nominal per capita exports more than tripled, from US $ 324 to US $ 1,051. By 2020, per capita exports for all of Brazil had fallen to US $ 988. But the behavior between states is very different. São Paulo, leader of industrial exports, exported 19 billion USD in 2000, reached 59 billion USD in 2011 and fell to 42 billion USD in 2020. Mato Grosso exported 1 billion USD in 2000 and 18 billion USD in 2020, by increasing its external sales concentrated in the agro-industry without interruption year after year.
Over the past 20 years, world trade has tripled its face value in dollars, Chinese exports have increased tenfold, and Mato Grosso’s overseas sales have increased eighteenfold. In terms of the per capita ratio, a Mato Grosso’s average exported US $ 5,170 in 2020, while a Chinese exported US $ 1,799.
The expansion of the agricultural frontier to the north and west has been accompanied by high environmental costs and logistical changes. Mato Grosso has only been behind Pará in deforestation in recent years, and a significant portion of the state’s agricultural production occurs on illegally devastated land.
The dynamic was deforestation, increased exploitation of timber, followed by the growth of animal production and, later, the expansion of cereal growing areas. This movement is heading towards Rondônia and Acre. In 2000, Rondônia exported only US $ 43 per capita, 90% of which was timber. In 2020, it was US $ 764 per rondoniense, 52% meat alone, 30% soy and less than 5% wood.
However, leaving the Atlantic ports, which are increasingly distant from production, removes the competitiveness of Brazilian meat. Fresh and chilled meat has an average value on the world market 20% higher than that of frozen meat. Brazil alone accounts for 19.9% of global frozen meat exports, but only 3.7% of fresh and chilled meat. Higher-value meats on Brazil’s western border will be much more competitive in Asia-Pacific markets if they cross the Andes overland. Not just for the cost, but especially for the time.
By paved roads, the district of Abunã, Rondônia, is 1,734 km from the port of Matarani, on the Peruvian Pacific coast, and 3,274 km from the port of Santos or 2,784 km from Belém, Pará. Acre is 1,164 km from Matarani, 3,357 km from Belém and 3,864 km from Santos. And Matarani is a few thousand nautical miles closer to Japan than Santos or Belém. The days saved on the way to the Pacific ports can guarantee rapid access to refrigerated products in Asia, a market which via the Atlantic, Brazil only reaches raw materials and frozen foods. It requires scale and logistics.
Leaving the Pacific may be the way to add more value to exports from the Midwest and, primarily, Amacro, an acronym referring to the area that includes southern Amazonas, eastern Acre, and the northwest. de Rondônia, near the triple border between Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Acre is about to undergo a major transformation, on a scale similar to what happened in Mato Grosso and which continues in Rondônia. The challenge is to learn quickly to avoid the negative externalities of the agricultural expansion of Mato Grosso and Matopiba (part of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Oeste da Bahia), to strengthen the organized and conscious use of the land and to prevent illegal havoc.
In Matopiba’s case, the concept emerged after economic reality prevailed with high environmental costs and limited use of the social benefits of increased production. At Amacro, it is possible to define the development model at the start of the new economic reality and its planning will be more satisfactory if it includes the connection with the Pacific.