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Brazil's soybean bonanza hampered by choking ports

  |   Sept. 17, 2013 at 5:59 PM
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Brazil is set to overtake the United States as the world's largest soybean producer but its exporters face a potentially crippling bottleneck -- congested ports.

Earlier this year Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff overturned ruling Workers Party's socialist ideals and invited private firms to run the country's congested ports and airports. But the logistics problem has been compounded by huge imports in preparation for next year's FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in 2016.

Since last year Brazilian exporters have struggled with the dual menace of slow export processing at ports and reversals in economic growth gained earlier last year and in 2011.

Brazilian exports suffered last year as an overvalued real, the national currency, discouraged customers. The real has since weakened, creating problems for businesses that both import and export.

Rousseff took office in 2011 amid a commodities boom that boosted Brazil's liquidity, in particular money available to the government to embark on ambitious infrastructural projects.

That spending lacks focus and has unclear priorities, say critics in the opposition and in Brazilian media. Key infrastructural reforms needed to ease congestion at ports, airports and state highways have yet to be implemented.

Instead much government energy and funding has gone into what critics call prestige projects designed to impress foreign visitors to sport tournaments rather than Brazilian citizens.

Rousseff is under fire for neglecting areas that will ease youth unemployment, lessen income disparities and improve ordinary, underprivileged Brazilians' quality of life. The government says it's doing more to deliver on those promises; its opponents are unimpressed.

Brazil's infrastructural inadequacies became a fraught issue when thousands marched through the streets on Independence Day Sept. 7 to demand crime-free cities, demanding better public services and an end to corruption.

She acknowledged there's "still a lot to be done" and Brazil faced "urgent problems" but insisted the country had "progressed as never before in the last few years."

Public outcry over Wikileaks disclosures deflected public attention but as new data about Brazil's bumper soybean crop was made public business worries over the port problems returned to news headlines.

Brazil was rated the top soybean exporter before the port crisis began to affect grain exports.

U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates upgraded the Brazilian crop, which will be harvested early in 2014, to 88 million tons, about 3 million tons ahead of forecast U.S. output.

The forecast elevated soybean prices, but analysts warned Brazil's soybean success would depend on a successful harvest.

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