Neoextractivist reserve

Image: Rahul Pandit


Primary-export specialization and accumulation by dispossession in the Amazon

The capitalist system configures itself in a dynamic of accumulation on an increasing scale. A process of renewed cycles of accumulation, production and appropriation of wealth that includes several territorial spaces, making up a worldwide reproductive dynamics. several cycles of Brazilian capitalist development during the XNUMXth century until the current configuration of a neo-extractive reserve of natural resources with effects on its occupation, space, land use, value, labor relations and environmental degradation. This article analyzes the interaction between the current Brazilian economic pattern of production and export of primary goods and the conditions of economic spoliation in that region, with the inevitable consequences of social and environmental degradation.

The historical development of capitalism implies a growing commodification of social relations and the global territorial space. Production processes link to each other in complex chains of commodification. The capitalist economy moves for the instrumental purpose of maximizing accumulation. The conditions for the social reproduction of capital are placed in temporal terms under the double condition of first guaranteeing use values, which will serve to replace the material elements of capital, consumed over the course of the year and, as a sequence, guaranteeing that the net surplus product be converted into capital.

In recent decades, a new relational disposition with world capital has been increasingly established throughout Latin America. This pattern of capitalist development, centered on some common axes, has generalized neo-extractivism in several countries on the continent, establishing the “export pattern of productive specialization”.

The main common components identified in this pattern of economic growth that has been established in Brazil in recent decades, as a result of the reconfiguration of the International Division of Labor (DIT) can be systematized into three elements: i) exhaustion of economic growth based on industrial diversification or increasing reprimarization the national economic structure (OSÓRIO, 2012; TRINDADE & OLIVEIRA, 2017); ii) the established neo-extractive base, determines an intensive and growing spoliation of nature, in the sense established by Harvey (2005) a process of “accumulation by spoliation” is observed as the basis of this dynamic of capital expansion; iii) the mass of use values ​​produced are destined for the international market, re-establishing a reproduction pattern of primary-export specialization.

By pattern of reproduction of capital we mean the capitalist social and economic formations that are established nationally, comprising, on the one hand, varying degrees of dependence on the circuit of the capitalist world economy, on the other hand, greater or lesser development and technological autonomous expansion, credit and sovereign power of your national state. This set of variability establishes quite different capitalist societies, which conditions international economic relations and at the same time defines the role of these societies in the international division of labor, as well as the degree of integration of the various economic circuits present in their internal dynamics.

In this context, two aspects are important: i) the role of Amazonian mineral production and agribusiness in the current logic of Brazilian development, centered on growing economic reprimarization and; ii) the high level of environmental degradation produced by established forms of mineral neo-extractive exploration and agribusiness, determining the current economic cycle of accumulation by dispossession.

Economic reprimarization is more evident in economies that have reached a higher degree of industrial complexity, as is the case in Brazil. Specifically, the evolution conditions of the Brazilian export basket in recent years raised the question of the problem of the development of an “export pattern of productive specialization”, whether due to the export base of low technological intensity, or due to the strong dependence on the cycle of appreciation of the international demand for basic or primary goods.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the degree of openness of the Brazilian economy, with a very significant increase in export value: between 2000 and 2020, absolute growth was above US$ 150 billion, with total exports quadrupling. This trajectory of expansion in exports was basically centered on the increase in the export of primary products, which denotes the problem of the volatility of commodity prices in relation to manufactured goods and a dynamic of low stability over time, strongly linked to possible increases in demands caused by a boom in a central or semi-peripheral economy, specifically in this case stimulated by the growth of China.

In relation to accumulation by dispossession, we have a historical mechanism of reproduction of capital based on the appropriation or “dispossession” of previously existing wealth or property, capable of venting the conditions of capital accumulation in the face of recurrent overproduction crises of capitalism. This form of accumulation refers to the preconditions for the development of the capitalist mode of production, which Marx ([1867], 2013) called primitive accumulation of capital. Harvey (2005) establishes the hypothesis that the conditions of reproduction of capital require a continuous “colonial” expansion or reinvention of “neocolonial” processes.

These forms of dispossessing accumulation are very diverse, but they have a common point in being mechanisms of a high degree of social and environmental degradation. In this way, the exploitation of natural resources and mineral neo-extractivism are very characteristic of a high-scale exploration process that uses mineral deposits of high content and easy prospecting, typical of the great Amazonian deposits, both iron and bauxite, both main ores exploited in the region we treat.

The specific conditions for the expansion of the Amazonian mineral industry take place with the expulsion of different populations from their original territories, as well as with a high environmental cost in the region, as this article will seek to show. On the other hand, the privatization of state-owned companies such as Companhia Vale in the 1990s, alongside huge forest areas devastated to guarantee mineral exploration and agribusiness, are elements that collaborate in identifying the current neoextractive cycle as a process of accumulation by dispossession. .

Export of primary products and environmental degradation

The Brazilian trade balance shows a fairly regular behavior in the last two decades. Surplus in the early 1990s and, from 1995 to 2000, in deficit. From then on, what is observed is a surplus and considerable growth in the trade balance, with exports growing at a faster pace than imports. Deficits were observed in only three years (2000, 2013 and 2014), reaching a peak in 2017, with a balance of US$ 56 billion, maintaining high balances in the last four years. Of the highlights of basic products, iron ore and soy are the main items in the export basket, as shown in the table below containing the main products exported by the country in 2020.

Main products exported by Brazil – 2020


Source: ComexStat, Ministry of Economy (2021). Self elaboration.

Other primary products are fuel, meat and sugar. Beef is an item on the rise. In 2020, Brazil exported US$ 15,8 billion in beef (80% being in natura), and the country is the world's largest exporter of beef. These results of the trade balance show the complete undoing of the manufacturing industry, with total dominance of the primary export basket, as evidenced by the numbers shown above. On the other hand, this primary export agenda is heavily concentrated in the Amazon region, with obvious elements of environmental impacts, especially focused on deforestation.

The Amazonian and national scenario, therefore, show an accelerated process of primary specialization in the export basket, with considerable economic and socio-environmental implications, with deforestation being one of the main aspects resulting therefrom.

The generation of foreign exchange via the trade balance in recent years is based mainly on the sale of basic products. Moreover, the country's trade balance owes much of its surplus situation to the states of the Amazon, mainly Pará and Mato Grosso. These two states of the so-called Legal Amazon account for 18,5% of the total value exported by Brazil, that is, of the 209 billion dollars traded in 2020, the two main states of the Legal Amazon accounted for almost 39 billion dollars, with this This volume is basically due to the two main primary products produced and exported in Brazil: iron ore and soy.

Regional development conditions seem to be even more aggravated by the contradictory relationship between export relief and the export of primary and semi-manufactured goods. The present contradiction is related to two central aspects: i) the primary-export production chains are very short, which establishes the inability to appropriate income (mining or agrarian) that could define new social and environmental standards for the region; ii) the second contradiction is closely related to the previous one and refers to the tax exemption for the export of this type of good established by Complementary Law 87/96 (Kandir Law), without, however, any federative solution being offered. The net exporting states end up bearing the environmental and social burden, without due return, either tax or arising from a federal agreement.

The generation of foreign exchange via the trade balance in recent years is based mainly on the sale of basic products. Moreover, the country's trade balance owes much of its surplus situation to the states of the Amazon, mainly Pará and Mato Grosso. Thus, the Amazon is an important exporting region for Brazil, but at an enormous social and environmental cost.

PRODES data (2021)[i] show that the advance of soy cultivation and mineral extraction accompany Amazonian deforestation. The first years of the 2000s were critical in terms of forest devastation in the Amazon, reaching 2004 with 27,7 km² of deforested area. In that year, the State of Mato Grosso alone was responsible for more than 40% of total deforestation, followed by Pará (32%). From this peak, the deforested area gradually decreased, reaching 4,5 km² of deforested area in 2012, rising again rapidly after the 2016 coup d'état and increasing very strongly with the Bolsonaro government and with the dismantling of IBAMA and ICM -Bio.

Maintaining the observed trend of supplier of basic products, the Amazon region: i) loses by not adding value to the production process; ii) it increases its fragility in the face of possible crises in the foreign market (or a drop in prices for some other reason), given the emphasis on exporting commodities, as it has already shown in recent years (2013 and 2014); iii) increases the gap in the process of regional development in relation to other regions of the country, which are more focused on industrial production, however, it also sustains the national condition of a primary-export pattern with serious consequences in the medium term, including due to the Brazilian urban complexity and the limits of a standard that does not generate necessary job and income stimuli; iv) it also loses due to the greater concentration of capital (and income) in the primary-export sector, which does not provide a spillover effect on the economy; v) in environmental terms, the damage is very significant, as the activities considered to be the main causes of deforestation (mining, livestock and soy) are in the growing export basket of primary products.

Thus, the trade-offs The generation of foreign exchange versus the recrudescence of regional productive inequality must be rethought, whether due to the necessary improvement in the quality of life of the population of the Amazon region, or through the introduction of a development model that overcomes the current pattern of a mere granary of basic products, with deleterious effects on the environment and with low social return, just check the human development indicators of the region and especially of the two states in focus.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Criticism of the Political Economy of the Public Debt and the Capitalist Credit System: a Marxist approach (CRV

*Wesley Pereira Oliveira is professor of economics at the Federal University of South and Southeast Pará (UNIFESSPA).


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[I] The PRODES project by INPE (National Institute for Space Research) carries out satellite monitoring of clear-cut deforestation in the Legal Amazon and produces, since 1988, annual deforestation rates in the region. Access at









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