Trade Brings Brazil Much-Needed Hard Currency

By Green, Paula L. | Global Finance, September 2003 | Go to article overview
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Trade Brings Brazil Much-Needed Hard Currency

Green, Paula L., Global Finance


Brazil's burgeoning trade surplus is giving heart to politicians and corporations alike. But the country still has a way to go.

The South American nation mown for exporting soccer stars and samba music is racking up another multibillion-dollar trade surplus this year as Brazilian companies export less glamorous products such as tiny soybeans to China and frozen pork to Russia.

A bright spot in the struggling Brazilian economy, the trade surplus has already reached nearly $10.4 billion during the first six months of this year-more than three-quarters of the $13.1 billion trade surplus recorded for all of 2002. And although still a small portion of a huge economy, the trade surplus is contributing some of the hard currency Brazil needs to pay down its foreign debt-a development especially helpful since foreign inflows of capital have declined.

"If there was not any external demand, we would be in a mild recession. The domestic demand for products is in retraction," says Flavio Castelo Branco, chief economist at the Brazilian Confederation of Industry in Rio de Janeiro. Adds Marcelo Salomon, Brazil economist for ING in Sao Paulo, "The government needs a robust trade surplus."

The government of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva (Lula) knows that. After his election last October on the leftist Workers Party ticket, Lula appointed Luiz Fernando Furlan-the chairman of one of the country's most successful exporting companies-as head of the Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade. Furlan was chairman of Sadia, Brazil's largest poultry processing company. Since assuming his ministerial post in January, Furlan has led Brazilian industrialists on nearly a dozen trade missions to countries as diverse as Russia Japan, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland.

Maria Cristina Ferraz Alves, second secretary for trade policy at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, DC, says the trade missions are part of the Brazilian government's strategy to expand its trade horizons beyond its traditional trading partners: the United States and Europe. "President Lula has said this in his inaugural address and again and again," adds Ferraz Alves. "We want to diversify into new markets."

The South American nation, for example, recently signed a framework agreement with India that covers Brazilian exports of petrochemical products and auto parts and is in the midst of negotiations with South African trade officials on a pact that would case trade flows between the two countries by reducing tariffs and removing technical barriers.

Open Policy Pays Off

Brazil has reaped the benefits of its trade diversification efforts. China, for example, became the fourth-largest export market for Brazilian products last year, up from the No. 6 slot in 2001. That placed the Asian economic giant right behind two of Brazil's more traditional trading partners: The Netherlands, which holds the No. 2 slot with $3.2 billion worth of Brazilian goods, and Germany, which holds the No. 3 slot with $2.54 billion. Overall, Chinese buyers imported $2.52 billion worth of Brazilian products; the top-selling product was soybeans at $825 million, followed by iron ore at $597 million, and soybean oil at $117 million.

Ferraz Alves says the Brazilian government is working simultaneously on three fronts to diversify its export base: multilateral negotiations with the World Trade Organization, hemispheric talks through the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and regional trade pacts. In addition to developing new markets on faraway continents, Brazilian trade officials have forged agreements with the country's Latin neighbors, including the Andean nations, Mexico and the Mercosur countries.

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