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In a pandemic, China exports in mask what Brazil sells in soy and meat

Coronavirus: Production line of protective masks in a factory in the Huyi district of Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, China Image: Xinhua / Liu Xiao

Creative, protective or disposable, the masks have become one of the symbols of a pandemic that does not lose strength. But for one country, they have also consolidated themselves as a source of billionaire income: China.

World Trade Organization data reveal that overseas sales of masks produced in China have reached more than $ 40 billion since the pandemic began.

Alone, China dominated 57% of the global market, valued at $ 71 billion in the first six months of the year. The Chinese presence is also strong in protective equipment, including gloves and glasses. This market reached US $ 98 billion between January and July 2020. Almost half of this segment is dominated by Chinese sales.

With regard to masks, the market practically doubled in less than a year, with a jump of 89% and an initial scenario of lack of product and strong inflation. Result: the value exported by Chinese manufacturers in the first six months of the year is equivalent to everything that Brazil exported in some of its main agribusiness products.

Data from the National Agriculture Confederation reveal that, in the same period, the country exported US $ 23.8 billion in soybeans, US $ 4.2 billion in fresh beef, US $ 3.5 billion in raw cane sugar and another $ 3.5 billion in soybean meal.

In the Chinese case, however, the sales explosion did not occur immediately. When the country’s economy closed in mid-January, the supply of masks in China itself suffered a severe shock and the country even imported the product in February.

But production resumed in March and, with investments, exports jumped by more than 100% compared to data from 2019.

Official data even pointed out that, between March and May, China had sold more than 50 billion masks to the world.

In certain places, production has multiplied. The manufacturer BYD Co. would have a production capacity of 20 million units.

Another obstacle for the Chinese was quality. The explosion also sparked international criticism in the face of reports of poor product quality, prompting the government to announce, at the end of April, that it had identified 90 million masks with questionable standards.

Mask diplomacy

But the masks also served as an instrument of diplomacy for the Chinese. After accusations that it hid the first cases of the coronavirus and was placed under strong international pressure, China multiplied gestures to support different countries around the world.

In March, Beijing sent 250,000 masks and 5,000 exam kits to Iran. In each of the boxes sent to the country under American sanctions was a verse from a Persian poet, Saadi Shirazi: “Adam’s children are the members of a body, which share an origin in its creation “.

At that time, a million masks were also sent to Daegu, an affected city in South Korea. Entities were also encouraged to show generosity. A Chinese chamber of commerce, for example, assigned 2,500 goggles to doctors in the city of Turin.

But the first major action in Europe was established by the Chinese in Italy and Spain, the two most affected countries on the European continent in the first wave of the disease. In March, Beijing allocated 1.8 million masks to Europeans, in addition to 30 tons of medical supplies and a team of specialists.

Moments after the landing of the material, the head of Italian diplomacy, Luigi Di Maio, thanked the gesture. “Tonight Italy is not alone,” he said.

The same strategy was adopted in Latin America, Africa and even in international organizations, which saw an increase in donations by Beijing.

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