Brazil battles soaring import bill

May 3, 2012 at 4:41 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, May 3 (UPI) -- Brazil's import bill is eating into its trade surplus as the Latin American giant sees its overvalued currency discouraging exports of its own goods, including commodities and raw materials, government data indicated.

The latest data showed Brazil's trade surplus fell to its lowest level in a decade in April as the import bill soared to its highest level on record for that period. In April the trade surplus fell to $881 million from a surplus of $2 billion in March and $1.86 billion a year earlier.

The government sees the import bill as a source of increased worry because only a small part of the bill is related to capital goods that eventually may contribute toward manufacturing or processing of Brazil's natural resources.

Brazil has thrived on commodities exports amid rising international prices but the country's strategic planners warn it's not the best way to guarantee steady national income. They recommend more manufacturing and less exports of raw or unprocessed materials.

Brazilian planners are also upset with Argentina and Bolivia with their unilateral nationalizations of foreign industrial interests in the two countries. The planners fear the neighbors' decisions will damage investment climate in Latin America.

Brazil has attracted tens of billions of dollars of inward investment but mostly on the basis of its high interest rates. The Argentine and Bolivian nationalizations have spread concern in the markets that other regional governments may follow with similar seizures of foreign companies' assets.

Brazilian officials say the country has no plans for copycat actions against foreign investors.

Brazilian imports topped $18.69 billion in April, the highest for that month and above the $18.31 billion a year earlier. Exports fell to $19.57 billion in April from $20.91 billion in March and $20.17 billion a year earlier, Trade Ministry data showed.

Brazilian currency real, which reached a 12-year high against the dollar in 2011, contributed to a trade deficit for manufactured goods of $92.5 billion in 2011. Brazil's central bank has lowered the benchmark interest rate to 9 percent to help weaken the currency.

Brazil's state and private sectors are also looking to expand their portfolios within the country and abroad as part of the effort to boost exports.

Brazil's meat giant JBS is reported in talks to acquire a local subsidiary, Doux Frangosul, owned by French poultry processor Groupe Doux.

JBS is the world's largest processor of fresh beef and pork, with more than $30 billion in annual sales.

Doux Frangosul's reported debts of $319 million figured in the take-over talks, Brazilian news media said.

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