Brazil In History
Brazil: National Context
Brazil occupies almost one-half of the entire South America continent, and is the fifth largest
country in the world. It borders all Latin American countries except Chile and Ecuador. The
9,170km coastline and the 50,000km navigable inland waterways provide great potentials for
water transportation which has not been well developed.
Brazil is topographically relatively flat. 40% of the land is under the Amazon Rain Forest. Most of
the arable land is found in the South, but the process of land development for agriculture is pushing
into the Central-West and the North as well. The climate is mainly tropical and sub-tropical, and is
particularly humid and rainy in the Amazon region and along the coast. Temperate climate is found
in the south and on the higher lands. The nation is free from earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones,
but rainstorms, drought and frost occasionally cause considerable damage.
Demography and Social Patterns
Population is around 155 million and growing at about 2% per year. It is concentrated in the
southern states of Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, and Parana. Almost 60% of the total population live
on 20% of the land.(See Table 1) 80% of the population is urban and 20% are rural dwellers.
55% is under 20 years of age and less than 10% is over 60. The average life expectancy is 63
The majority of Brazilians are of European or African descent. Besides the original Portuguese
settlers, other significant ethnic groups include Africans, Germans, Italians, and Japanese. The
official language is Portuguese, but English is widely used in the business community. The
predominant religion is Roman Catholicism. There is religious freedom, and religion is not a source
of social unrest.
The general level of education requires much improvement. About 75% of children above ten
years old are considered to be literate. Around 5% of enrolled students go on to higher education.
As a result, most of the labor force are semiskilled or unskilled. There is a shortage of managerial,
supervisory, and technical personnel.
The gross domestic product(GDP) per capita in 1993 was about US$3,000 per annum. There
exists a wide income gap, with ‘1% of population stinking rich, 20% stinking poor’. 10 million
families are roofless, while the 12 million homeless peasants seek shelters in peasant squatters in
the countryside where land is so unequally distributed. Substantial funding are needed for public
housing, health care, schools, and infrastructure. Other major social problems include violent crime
Brazil is rich in natural resources. It has some of the largest iron ore deposits in the world and is
now one of the biggest gold producers. Other metals and minerals are also mined on an increasing
scale.(See Table 2) The extensive river system provides great hydroelectric potential, as evident in
the Itaipu dam project. Since the oil crisis in the 70s, Brazil embarked upon the ProAlcohol
program for alcohol fuel manufacture from sugar cane to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign
As for agriculture, Brazil is a major exporter of soybeans and orange juice in addition to the
traditional coffee and cocoa. The fishing potential along the coastline is significant but has not been
fully exploited.(See Table 3) The natural scenery and favorable climate also foster a prosperous
Political Climate and Forces
Brazil remained a Portuguese colony for more than 300 years until it became a republic(Federative
Republic of Brazil)in 1889. The latest Constitution was promulgated in 1988, and it is still under
Brazil is composed of 27 states and the Federal District of Brasilia, the capital city. The states are
divided into municipalities, which are further divided into districts. The federal government consists
of three branches: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary.
The executive branch is headed by the President under whom are several executive departments
and independent regulatory agencies. The appointed heads of the executive departments form the
Cabinet. The legislative branch, the Congress is made up of the elected Senate and the House of
Representatives. The judicial branch consists of a system of federal, state, and local courts
throughout the country, headed by the Supreme Court.
There are many political parties, but ideologies are not well developed as a democratic system
returned only in 1985. Parties normally represent specific economic groups and interests within the
After the industrialization resulting in fierce inflation and foreign debt, Brazil went through a period
of military autocratic regime through 1964 to 1989, until the first popularly elected president since
1960, Fernado Collor de Mello. Although the chance of the military having a coup is slim, they still
remain a strong political force.
President Collor had significant support and vowed on reform on the much needed economic
policy. He planned to lower tariffs, control inflation, promote free trade, and reduce the over
bloated public sector. However, he resigned in 1992 for charges of corruption. His successor,
former vice-president Itamar Franco was seen as indecisive in economic matters. He chose to
make increasing growth as his first priority instead of reducing inflation. Despite of a already huge
deficit, he tried to stimulate growth by increasing government spending.
The current president, Fernardo Henrique Cardoso was Franco’s finance minister. He pushed
through a stabilization program which included significant economic liberalization and income tax
increase. He managed to lower inflation and federal deficit by introducing the Real Plan. Now, he
is pushing the Constitution review which vows to privatize state-run monopolies and redistribute
Luis Inacio Da Silva(Lula), leader of the Workers Party(PT) was the second runner-up in the two
most recent presidential elections. His socialist philosophy stresses social justice, restraints on
market capitalism, limits to integration with the world economy, debt relief, and a larger state role.
He represents the left wing of the Brazilian politics which is growing in importance. Meanwhile,
pressed by the public outcry for better public services, President Cardoso announced that of his
$500 billion planned spending for 1996-99, two-thirds would be embarked for social services
such as education and housing. However, Mr. Cardoso disappointed western observers by
allocating two-thirds of the social spending to welfare payments.
Since 71% of the population is Roman Catholic, the Brazilian Church has traditionally had great
influence in the political scene. In recent years, Vatican has strengthened controls over the Church,
making it more conservative. However, the Church still remains a left-of-center social action wing
which excises influence on voting results. The Brazilian Church is closely related to the poorer and
express sympathies for the PT.
With the return of democratic election, the recent political turmoil seems to be ended. However,
President Cardoso would still have to face an over represented Congress from the poorer northern
regions, and one who greatly hinders the progress of the Constitution Amendments on behalf of
their protgs-local business and powerful. However, given the first-year success of the real,
President Cardoso should have more power in advancing his economic reform.
Brazil is the tenth largest economy in the world. Its economy grew considerably from the
mid-1960s to the end of the 1970s. However, during the 1980s, economic performance faltered;
macro-economic instability, high inflation, and increased indebtedness characterized the
decade.(See Table 4) Under the recent economic reform, growth has been restored and inflation
has been reduced.(See Table 5) The major challenges facing Brazil now is to maintain growth and
control inflation, .
National Values and Ideology
Brazil is a very mixed and culturally diverse country. Brazilians are viewed as passionate, open,
and patriotic especially when it comes to soccer in the eyes of the western world. Throughout
various stages of the history, such as the struggle for independence, for the Republic, and the
recent parade against violence in Rio de Janeiro, , the ideas of liberation and optimism are always
there in the background. However, they are also conservative especially when related to religion.
Like other cultures in the tropical, Brazilians are leisure oriented. The working day is normally eight
hours, Monday to Friday. Besides statutory holidays, the annual Carnival causes a standstill to all
businesses Monday through Wednesday. Recreation activities are mainly outdoors, taking
advantage of the tropical climate.
Though under a democratic system, the society is still highly stratified with a small group of
business elite and landowners controlling the direction of major policies. The Congress is
dominated by whites. A century after the abolition of slavery, blacks lack adequate political
representation, education, and housing.
The basic unit of society differs among different regions. Individualism dominates in the highly
industrialized South where people enjoy a greater social mobility. In the rural northern regions,
however, fazenda-traditional large agricultural producing unit is the basic social system. It is
characterized by the dualistic system, with the landlords at the top and everyone else at the
bottom. In the traditional agriculture based society, powerful fazendeiro tended to extend their
power into the political system in order to control government policies. This is why the present
government is facing large resistance on land reform from the North. The hierarchical relationship is
also closely linked to clientelism in which superiors grant certain favors to inferiors, thereby
creating indebtedness and moral obligations while securing a steady supply of labor or scarce
skills. While in urban contexts with high rates of unemployment, job opportunities are provided in
exchange for loyalty and backing in elections. Such concept of ‘extended family’ is the foundation
of human relationship in Brazil.
The Executive holds much of the responsibility for formulating and implementing trade and
industrial policies. The present government has eliminated and simplified many regulations dealing
with specific trade and tax concessions that used to be complicated. The complex investment code
has also been simplified and liberalized, though a few constraints still remain.
The main economy agency is the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Planning(MEFP) headed by
Pedro Malan. Under it the principal business regulatory agencies include: BACEN-Central
Bank(monetary policy, foreign exchange controls, control of foreign capitals and profit remittances,
regulation of banks and financial institutions), CVM-Securities Commission(securities markets and
listed companies), CADE-Administrative Council for Economic Defense(monopoly, cartel,
antitrust monitoring), INPI-National Institute of Industrial Property(technological development),
CDI-Industrial Development Council(industrial development, granting of fiscal incentives), and
DECEX-Foreign Trade Department(foreign trade, control of export and import licenses).
In the formulation of economic policies, the government maintains contacts with the private sector
which may contribute in the process through participating in sectoral chambers and special
committees. Also, reviews of policies are sometimes provided by research institute.
Economic Policy and Challenges
Until the recent reforms, the economy was subject to extensive regulation which inhibited the
operations of a competitive market economy. Since 1990, Brazil has undertaken a major
liberalization effort concentrating on trade liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. The current
economy is basically one of free enterprise, but there is still considerable state and semi-state
participation in various strategic sectors. The National Privatization Program was enacted a few
years ago to privatize many formerly state-run enterprises, most notably the steel and
petro-chemical industries. In July 1995, the lower house of Congress has accepted the
Constitutional Amendments that will open oil, mining, electric power, and telecoms to private and
One of the largest successes of the recent reform is the real, Brazil’s latest currency. Introduced to
deindex prices and to lower inflation, the real and accompanying measures have brought fierce
growth and a flood of new investment: 12 multinationals alone are planning to spend $8 billion by
2000. Most significantly, inflation has fallen, from 3000% in 1989 to 30% in 95. However, the
strength of the currency encouraged imports and Brazil is facing a trade deficit: $3.2 billion in
1995. The government responded by devaluation, import curbs, tariffs, and quotas on car imports.
Another problem is the coming back of inflation. However, inflation seems to be built in the system
characterized by private greed, lack and mismanagement of public finance and enterprise. Urgent
reforms are needed in the following:
the rusty and unwieldy tax system
collection and distribution of tax revenues-empowerment of the federal
redistribution of public responsibilities between the federal and the states
reduction of foreign debt
ending the job-for-life security of public servants
replace poorly run state pension program with private project
privatize and monitor estado(state) banks, stop the chaotic and unsupervised lending to the
open joint ventures or private investment in the remaining state-run enterprises
remove restriction on foreign ownership
General Trade Pattern
Natural resources and agriculture have been the traditional mainstay of the Brazilian economy,
backed up by abundant human resources. This is mainly a result of the colonial monarchy for
which the infrastructure was built to provide resources for the mother country’s industries. Since
the 1960s, however, emphasis has been shifted to industrial development financed mainly by
international loans. As a result, exports today reflect a much more balanced mix of commodities
and manufactured goods.(See Table 6)
Following the debt crisis of 1982, the servicing of Brazil’s foreign debt required the creation of
large trade surpluses. This was achieved by import contraction. Between 1982 and 1990 the value
of imports fell from 7% to 4% of GDP.(See Table 4) With the lowering of trade barriers, the
profile is changing. A free trade zone was also set up in Manaus in the North to attract business to
Leading trading partners are the European Communities, the United States, Japan, and Argentina.
During the past decade, the direction of exports has shifted towards the United States and
developing countries, particularly in East Asia. The share of Latin American countries has declined
from 18% to around 12%, reflecting unstable economic conditions in those markets.(See Table 7)
Imports are also mainly from the United States and Europe. Within Latin America, MERCOSUL
countries and Chile are the main suppliers.(See Table 8)
Brazil is a member of the Latin American Integration Association(LAIA), and a founding member
of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade(GATT). Special tariff preferences are granted to
imports from members of the LAIA and the Global System of Trade Preferences among
developing countries(GSTP). It is also a member of the Southern Common
Market(MERCOSUL), an agreement among Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay aiming to
gradually eliminate all tariffs in 1995. There is also a Brazil-Argentina bilateral agreement that
would increase trade between the two nations. The success of these regional agreements may
increase the chance of a future common external tariff.
The Constitution establishes that foreign investments should be in the national interest, and it is
welcome to the extent that it represents a long-term commitment to the economic development.
Areas particularly favored by the local include development of agriculture, technology,
labour-intensive industries, and manufacture of products that are currently imported and those that
will increase exports. Foreign investors may also participate in the National Privatization Program
by converting Brazilian foreign debt securities, or by subscribing to the privatization funds.
Although there are no federal tax incentives to attract foreign capital, many states and local
government offer tax concessions especially in the poorer Northeast and Amazon regions. Except
for the above tax incentives, all corporations are subject to 26% corporation income tax.
There is a strong control over foreign currency transaction which is monitored by the National
Monetary Council. All foreign currency loans have to be approved by the Central Bank. When
Brazil is short of foreign exchange, the Central Bank centralizes all foreign currency repatriation
and remittance requests, and releases foreign currency when it becomes available. Therefore
delays occur, though the Bank pay interest compensations.
Foreign ownership is restricted in certain industries viewed as strategically important. These include
communications, aviation, defense, classified government contracts, coastal and freshwater
shipping, financial institutions, and privatized companies. Other than these, foreign firms are
generally allowed to have 100% ownership. Under the Constitution, national capital companies
may also receive temporary market protection or benefits in activities considered to be important
or national development. There is limitation on rural land but no restriction on ownership of urban
land and buildings.
Security markets are available with the principal stock exchanges in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
All public issues of securities have to be registered with the Securities Commission(CVM) The
process of registration can be very time-consuming. Banking and financing business are regulated
by the Central Bank. Major banks in the private sector have been organized into financial
conglomerates, and are able to offer full range of financial services through subsidiary and
associated companies. A point to note is that Brazil is not an international financial center and
offshore banking, trust, and financial services are not allowed.
Imports have been generally subject to high tariffs but are starting to fall. The maximum import duty
rate would be reduced to 40% by the end of 1994, and the modal rate was projected at 20%.
Import procedures were also deregulated.
Besides the 26% corporate tax, a 15% tax is also charged on dividends. Although a corporation
can be wholly foreign-owned, participation of local capital is favored by authorities. The director
of the corporation must hold a permanent visa and be domiciled in Brazil, though nationality is not
The labor force is approximately 62 million, or 41% of the population. Women comprise 35% of
the total, and this percentage is projected to increase. All employers, with few exceptions are
required to employ Brazilians in the proportion of at least two-thirds of their total personnel as
regards both number and total remuneration. There is a minimum wage requirement and labor
unions have become more active especially after the national two day strike in 1989.
Patent and trademark laws are available on a federal level. Environmental awareness has increased
due to international pressure, especially from the US. This has restricted the exploitation of the
tropical rain forest.
The infrastructure is underdeveloped. There has been no major modernization or improvement of
the government-controlled railroad system, though there are plans for some extensions. Hence
road transport dominates, but highways are not well maintained and construction of new highways
has been slow in recent years. The airline network is well developed and mainly privately owned.
Urban transportation poses significant problems especially in major cities. The postal system is well
developed. The telecommunication system has made significant progress, but is now lack of further
investment. Telexes and electronic mail links are widely used by business and industry.
Canadian Firms in Brazil
For Canadian businesses, Brazil offers great opportunities for its vast consumer base, close
proximity, and its similarities in language and culture. With the current government’s commitment on
economic liberalization, the investment climate is favorable.
Interested firms should be prepared to commit a medium to long term investment subject to tight
exchange control. Government policy may be unstable. Precautions should be taken when dealing
with local government due to the cumbersome and corrupt bureaucracy. Connections with the
political scene is advisable. Also, Brazil has much more primitive financial and industrial base, and
a much lower standard of labor productivity. Employee training would be a substantial part of
Canadian industries can take advantage of the large labor base for labor intensive manufacturing
processes like textile and electronics. There is also large potential in the agriculture, fisheries, and
energy sectors. The huge population, combined with those of the MERCOSUL countries will form
a gigantic consumer base for almost any product. As inflation and foreign debt under control,
Brazil might fulfill the promises it gave in the 1970s as an economic miracle among developing
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