Brazil Table of Contents
Brazil suffered drastic reductions in its terms of trade as a result of the 1973 oil shock. In the early 1970s, the performance of the export sector was undermined by an overvalued currency. With the trade balance under pressure, the oil shock led to a sharply higher import bill. Under such circumstances, a prudent course of action would have been to devalue the cruzeiro and to adopt growth-reducing policies in order to contain imports. However, Brazil opted to continue a high-growth policy. Furthermore, it adopted renewed strategies of import-substitution industrialization and of economic diversification. In the mid-1970s, the regime began implementing a development plan aimed at increasing self-sufficiency in many sectors and creating new comparative advantages (see Glossary). Its main components were to promote import substitution of basic industrial inputs (steel, aluminum, fertilizers, petrochemicals), to make large investments in the expansion of the economic infrastructure, and to promote exports.
This strategy was effective in promoting growth, but it also raised Brazil's import requirements markedly, increasing the already large current-account deficit. The current account (see Glossary) was financed by running up the foreign debt. The expectation was that the combined effects of import-substitution industrialization and export expansion eventually would bring about growing trade surpluses, allowing the service and repayment of the foreign debt.
Thus, despite the world recession resulting from other countries' adjustments to the oil shock, Brazil was able to maintain a high growth rate. Between 1974 and 1980, the average annual rate of growth of real GDP reached 6.9 percent and that of industry, 7.2 percent. However, the current-account deficit increased from US$1.7 billion in 1973 to US$12.8 billion in 1980 (see table 5, Appendix). The foreign debt rose from US$6.4 billion in 1963 to nearly US$54 billion in 1980.
Brazil was able to raise its foreign debt because, at the time, the international financial system was awash in petrodollars and was eagerly offering low-interest loans. By the end of the 1970s, however, the foreign debt had reached high levels. Additionally, the marked increase of international interest rates raised the debt service (see Glossary), forcing the country to borrow more only to meet interest payments (see table 6, Appendix). Productive capacity, exports, and the substitution of imports in various sectors expanded and became more diversified. However, the expected impacts on Brazil's current account were not to materialize until the mid-1980s.
Another feature of the 1974-80 period was an acceleration of inflation. Between 1968 and 1974, the rate of inflation had declined steadily, but afterward the trend was reversed. From 16.2 percent a year in 1973, the growth rate of the general price index (GPI--see Glossary) increased to 110.2 percent a year by 1980.
The effect of the 1974-85 period's industrialization on the balance of trade was significant. The balance of trade moved from an average deficit of US$3.4 billion in the 1974-76 period to an average surplus of US$10.7 billion in the 1983-85 period. In 1985 the share of manufactures (processed and semiprocessed) of total exports reached 66 percent, and between 1971-75 and 1978-83 the share of basic input imports in total imports declined from 32.3 percent to 19.2 percent. The recession and stagnation of the early 1980s had a role in reducing imports. However, import substitution was also important, as demonstrated by the few years of the 1980s that experienced a significant growth in GDP while the trade surplus was maintained.
Between 1981 and 1992, the GDP increased at an average annual rate of only 1.4 percent and per capita income declined 6 percent. Gross investment, as a proportion of GDP, fell from 21 to 16 percent, in part as a result of the fiscal crisis and the loss of public-sector investment capacity. The decline also reflected growing uncertainties regarding the future of the economy. The 1980s became known as the "lost decade," and its problems spilled over into the 1990s. Despite the stagnation of the 1981-92 period, inflation remained a major problem. It sometimes reached very high rates, prompting the implementation of short-lived shock-stabilization programs.
Data as of April 1997
Brazil Table of Contents