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Territorial reprimarization: Questions regarding regional development and urbanization in Brazil

RSA Blog
RSA Blog Brazil Latin America

This blog is part of the “Latin American Perspectives in Regional Studies” series and was published in both Spanish and English.

La version en español.


Much like during the colonial period, Latin America’s more recent incorporation into the trade flows of the global economy has been primarily focused on natural resources. The super cycle of commodity prices at the beginning of this century, largely boosted by China’s growing demand and by the process of financialization, has reflected in a major increase in Latin American exports of mineral and agricultural commodities. On this continent, the re-specialization in natural resource-intensive primary goods has inspired several studies on reprimarization and neo-extractivism.


The debate about natural resources and economic development seems to focus on the potential of creating productive complexes and territorial clusters in regions specializing in producing and exporting commodities, thereby ignoring the different configurations of the enclave. In terms of studies on regional development, we should revisit and review the relevance of using this historically important concept for Latin American development. We can thus question to what extent such a concept might be important for a better understanding of the spaces produced by contemporary globalization. Authors such as Phelps et al. stress the shortcomings of contemporary literature dealing with regional studies and economic geography concerning this concept, especially at this moment when many industrial clusters seem to be more like territorial enclaves.

In the contemporary context, spatial divisions of labour are hierarchically imposed, concentrating those segments with the greatest potential for regional development in certain nodes of the global economic networks, ruled over by transnational companies and powerful nation-states. In urban terms, importance is placed on the role of corporate and financial services concentrated in global-cities, given the need for coordinating and managing production in geographically extensive networks. Gateway cities help to link the hinterland of natural resources in peripheral nations to global value chains. In addition, innovative studies on “planetary urbanization” have highlighted the role of large-scale infrastructure projects (agribusiness corridors, irrigation infrastructure, natural resource extraction above ground, underground and at sea etc.), which articulate urbanization across the different regions of commodity production.

Given different sectorial specificities and the distinct forms of insertion into the global flows and value networks that articulate multiple spatial levels (local, regional, national and global), it is essential to analyse the broad variety of territorial productive enclaves and clusters to better understand the role of commodities in the regional development and the urbanization of Latin American nations, and especially, in Brazil. On the other hand, from a macro-geographic point of view, it is important to place the constitution of natural resource peripheries firmly at the centre of this debate. In such a scenario, one must provide a territorial perspective of reprimarization that goes beyond a merely macroeconomic view.


Territorial reprimarization and regional development in Brazil

In Brazil, a nation of continental dimensions, important transformations are underway in the productive structure, accompanied by a trend in reprimarization and specialization in the export of different natural-resource intensive goods. Several studies have concluded that there is a strong tendency to deindustrialize, in other words, for a reduction in the density of productive chains in Brazil. In this sense, the contemporary status quo, marked by losses in both quantity and quality of important links in productive chains contrasts with that of the period of import substitution, when economic growth accompanied an expressive diversification in the productive structure.

If we consider the questions imposed by a new national and international context, and by the specificities themselves of the Brazilian regional productive structure, then we are faced with a much more complex macro-geographic view of regional development in this country. The classic discussion based on macro-regional trends involving the regional concentration and de-concentration of productive activity, characterized in previous periods within the scope of the national market integration and industrialization (1930-80), now faces major limitations. The rise in Brazilian macro-regional heterogeneity, with the emergence of sub-regions with greater rates of growth and productivity, as well as the growing importance of medium-sized cities in regions boosted by mining operations and by agribusiness have all gained more relevance in our current times of greater economic internationalization and reprimarization.

Considering this research agenda, the following questions are of great relevance: Do the specificities of commodities (in terms of their production processes, technologies, location, use and remuneration of labour, infrastructure, appropriation of land and incomes, territorial division of labour, the role of the State and transnational companies etc.) define distinct standards of modern-day enclaves or productive territorial clusters/agglomerations? Will there be more flows of income abroad or more inter-sectoral/regional/urban links? What are the implications and limitations of specialization and the coupling with global commodity chains to regional development, urbanization and urban and regional planning?



Hipólita Siqueira is a Political Economist and Associate Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Institute for Urban and Regional Research and Planning.


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