O que é este blog?
Este blog trata basicamente de ideias, se possível inteligentes, para pessoas inteligentes. Ele também se ocupa de ideias aplicadas à política, em especial à política econômica. Ele constitui uma tentativa de manter um pensamento crítico e independente sobre livros, sobre questões culturais em geral, focando numa discussão bem informada sobre temas de relações internacionais e de política externa do Brasil. Para meus livros e ensaios ver o website: www.pralmeida.org. Para a maior parte de meus textos, ver minha página na plataforma Academia.edu, link: https://itamaraty.academia.edu/PauloRobertodeAlmeida;
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quinta-feira, 10 de dezembro de 2015
sexta-feira, 27 de fevereiro de 2015
Brazil - In a quagmire
Latin America’s erstwhile star is in its worst mess since the early 1990s
CAMPAIGNING for a second term as Brazil’s president in an election last October, Dilma Rousseff painted a rosy picture of the world’s seventh-biggest economy. Full employment, rising wages and social benefits were threatened only by the nefarious neoliberal plans of her opponents, she claimed. Just two months into her new term, Brazilians are realising that they were sold a false prospectus.
Brazil’s economy is in a mess, with far bigger problems than the government will admit or investors seem to register. The torpid stagnation into which it fell in 2013 is becoming a full-blown—and probably prolonged—recession, as high inflation squeezes wages and consumers’ debt payments rise (see page 71). Investment, already down by 8% from a year ago, could fall much further. A vast corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, has ensnared several of the country’s biggest construction firms and paralysed capital spending in swathes of the economy, at least until the prosecutors and auditors have done their work. The real has fallen by 30% against the dollar since May 2013: a necessary shift, but one that adds to the burden of the $40 billion in foreign debt owed by Brazilian companies that falls due this year.
Escaping this quagmire would be hard even with strong political leadership. Ms Rousseff, however, is weak. She won the election by the narrowest of margins. Already, her political base is crumbling. According to Datafolha, a pollster, her approval rating fell from 42% in December to 23% this month. She has been hurt both by the deteriorating economy and by the Petrobras scandal, which involves allegations of kickbacks of at least $1 billion, funnelled to politicians in her Workers’ Party (PT) and its coalition partners. For much of the relevant period Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board. If Brazil is to salvage some benefits from her second term, then she needs to take the country in an entirely new direction.
Levy to the rescue?
Brazil’s problems are largely self-inflicted. In her first term Ms Rousseff espoused a tropical state-capitalism that involved fiscal laxity, opaque public accounts, competitiveness-sapping industrial policy (see Schumpeter) and presidential meddling in monetary policy. Last year her re-election campaign saw a doubling of the fiscal deficit, to 6.75% of GDP.
To her credit, Ms Rousseff has at least recognised that Brazil needs more business-friendly policies if it is to retain its investment-grade credit rating and return to growth. This realisation is personified by her new finance minister, Joaquim Levy, a Chicago-trained economist and banker and one of the country’s rare economic liberals (see article). However, Brazil’s past failure to deal promptly with macroeconomic distortions has left Mr Levy to grapple with a recessionary trap.
To stabilise gross public debt, he has promised a whopping fiscal squeeze of almost two percentage points of GDP this year. Part of this is coming from the removal of an electricity subsidy and the reimposition of fuel duty. Both measures have helped to push inflation to 7.4%. He also plans to curb subsidised lending by public banks to favoured sectors and firms.
Ideally, Brazil would offset this fiscal squeeze with looser monetary policy. But because of the country’s hyperinflationary past, as well as more recent mistakes—the Central Bank bent to the president’s will, ignored its inflation target and foolishly slashed its benchmark rate in 2011-12—the room for manoeuvre today is limited. With inflation still above its target, the Central Bank cannot cut its benchmark rate from today’s level of 12.25% without risking further loss of credibility and sapping investor confidence. A fiscal squeeze and high interest rates spell pain for Brazilian firms and households and a slower return to growth. What makes this adjustment perilous is the political fragility of Ms Rousseff herself. On paper she won a comfortable, though reduced, legislative majority in the October election. Yet the PT is already grumbling about Mr Levy’s fiscal policies—partly because the campaign did not lay the ground for them. Ms Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on February 1st in an election for the politically powerful post of head of the lower house of Congress. Eduardo Cunha, who vanquished the PT’s man, will pursue his own agenda, not hers. Not for the first time, Brazil may be in for a period of semi-parliamentary government.
The country thus faces its biggest test since the early 1990s. The risks are clear. Recession and falling tax revenue may undermine Mr Levy’s adjustment. Any backsliding may in turn prompt a run on the real and a downgrade in Brazil’s credit rating, raising the cost of financing for government and companies alike. Were Brazil to see a repeat of the mass demonstrations of 2013 against corruption and poor public services, Ms Rousseff might be doomed.
From weakness, opportunity
Yet the president’s weakness is also an opportunity—and for Mr Levy in particular. He is now indispensable. He should build bridges to Mr Cunha, while making it clear that if Congress tries to extract a budgetary price for its support, that will lead to cuts elsewhere. The recovery of fiscal responsibility must be lasting for business confidence and investment to return. But the sooner the fiscal adjustment sticks, the sooner the Central Bank can start cutting interest rates.
More is needed for Brazil to return to rapid and sustained growth. It may be too much to expect Ms Rousseff to overhaul the archaic labour laws that have helped to throttle productivity, but she should at least try to simplify taxes and cut mindless red tape. There are tentative signs that the government will scale back industrial policy and encourage more international trade in what remains an over-protected economy.
Brazil is not the only member of the BRICS quintet of large emerging economies to be in trouble. Russia’s economy, in particular, has been battered by war, sanctions and dependence on oil. For all its problems, Brazil is not in as big a mess as Russia. It has a large and diversified private sector and robust democratic institutions. But its woes go deeper than many realise. The time to put them right is now.
Brazil’s liberals - Niche no longer
Thatcherism is winning adherents
AMONG the buskers on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s main thoroughfare, one act stood out on a recent Friday afternoon. A live rock band played spiffy renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” and other 1950s classics; between numbers, six panellists sang the praises of competition and fielded questions from 100-odd onlookers about such issues as transport prices. The event was organised by the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), a group founded last year to promote free-market answers to the country’s problems. The al fresco concert-cum-colloquium was a riposte to demonstrators who took to the streets a half-dozen times in January to demand free bus transport. A better idea would be to open bus services to competition among private firms, which would improve quality and lower costs, the MBL-ers claimed.
Although Brazil thinks of itself as a “tropical Sweden”, advocates of freer markets and a less intrusive state are making headway. Of the 50 organisations that belong to the Liberty Network, an umbrella group, all but a handful were founded in the past three years. A “liberty forum” in April is expected to draw some 5,000 South American freedom-lovers to Porto Alegre, a southern city. This year’s theme, inspired by the Charlie Hebdo murders, is freedom of expression.
Soon such folk will have a new political party to represent them. Called simply Novo (“new”), the party stands unabashedly for free markets, a minimal state, low taxes and individual liberties. This would extend Brazil’s narrow political spectrum. The Workers’ Party of the president, Dilma Rousseff, is decidedly left-wing. The main opposition party, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), is friendlier to markets but, as its name suggests, it is by no means Thatcherite.
Novo sounds like it will be. Its president, a banker called João Amoêdo, calls for privatisation of state-controlled enterprises such as Petrobras, an oil giant in the midst of a corruption scandal. The fledgling party has submitted the 492,000 notarised signatures needed to register with the electoral authority. Mr Amoêdo hopes for approval in March; it plans to field candidates in next year’s local elections. A new liberal force could provide fresh answers to the country’s increasingly difficult economic plight (see article).
Novo’s brassy brand of liberalism is still a minority taste. Many Brazilians associate the liberal reforms enacted when the PSDB was in power in the 1990s with the short-term pain they caused rather than the long-term stability they secured. At the University of São Paulo, the loftiest of Brazil’s ivory towers, microeconomics courses dwell on market imperfections while neglecting government failures, laments Fabio Barbieri, who teaches the subject.
The social-science section of Livraria Cultura, a famous bookshop on Avenida Paulista, displays freshly printed copies of Karl Marx’s “Capital” but carries nothing by John Stuart Mill, his great liberal contemporary. After the military coup of 1964 “we were all deformed by revolutionary Marxism”, says Eduardo Giannetti, a liberal economist (his 29-year-old son was among the Paulista panellists). For decades a cartelised capitalism, protected by the state, kept products shoddy and prices high, which did not help the private sector win friends.
But opinion may be shifting. Brazilians have long been open-minded about gay rights and immigration (but not legalisation of drugs). A poll by Datafolha, a research firm, published in September found that 30% are sceptical about state intervention and tax-and-spend policies, up from 26% a year earlier. In October’s presidential election Ms Rousseff defeated her challenger, the pro-business candidate of the PSDB, only narrowly. These are hopeful signs for liberals. But it will be some time before “let’s introduce competition into public transport” drums up the same enthusiasm as “free tickets”.
Schumpeter - Brazil’s business Belindia
Why the country produces fewer world-class companies than it should
BRAZILIANS make up almost 3% of the planet’s population and produce about 3% of its output. Yet of the firms in Fortune magazine’s 2014 “Global 500” ranking of the biggest companies by revenue only seven, or 1.4%, were from Brazil, down from eight in 2013. And on Forbes’s list of the 2,000 most highly valued firms worldwide just 25, or 1.3%, were Brazilian. The country’s biggest corporate “star”, Petrobras, is mired in scandals, its debt downgraded to junk status. In 1974 Edmar Bacha, an economist, described its economy as “Belindia”, a Belgium-sized island of prosperity in a sea of India-like poverty. Since then Brazil has done far better than India in alleviating poverty, but in business terms it still has a Belindia problem: a handful of world-class enterprises in a sea of poorly run ones.
Brazilian businesses face a litany of obstacles: bureaucracy, complex tax rules, shoddy infrastructure and a shortage of skilled workers—to say nothing of a stagnant economy (see article). But a big reason for Brazilian firms’ underperformance is less well rehearsed: poor management. Since 2004 John van Reenen of the London School of Economics and his colleagues have surveyed 11,300 midsized firms in 34 countries, grading them on a five-point scale based on how well they monitor their operations, set targets and reward performance. Brazilian firms’ average score, at 2.7, is similar to that of China’s and a bit above that of India’s. But Brazil ranks below Chile (2.8) and Mexico (2.9); America leads the pack with 3.3. The best Brazilian firms score as well as the best American ones, but its long tail of badly run ones is fatter.
Part of the explanation is that medium and large firms tend to be better-organised than small ones, and not only because well-run ones are likelier to grow. Brazil offers incentives aplenty to stay bitty, such as preferential tax treatment for firms with a turnover of no more than 3.6m reais ($1.3m). As they expand, many firms split rather than face increased scrutiny from the taxman. According to the World Bank, a midsized Brazilian firm spends 2,600 hours filing taxes each year. In Mexico, it is 330 hours.
Ownership patterns play a part too. Many Brazilian concerns are controlled by an individual shareholder, or one or two families. Two-thirds of those with sales of more than $1 billion a year are family-owned, notes Heinz-Peter Elstrodt of McKinsey, a consulting firm. That is less than in Mexico (96%) or South Korea (84%) but more than in America or Europe. Mr Van Reenen’s research shows that where family owners plump for outside chief executives, their firms do no worse than similarly sized ones with more diverse shareholders. But all too often they pick kin over professional managers—and performance suffers. This is particularly true in “low-trust” societies like Brazil, where bosses hire relatives instead of better-qualified strangers to avoid being robbed or sued for falling foul of overly worker-friendly labour laws.
Decades of economic turmoil—which ended when hyperinflation was vanquished in 1994—meant that companies were managed from crisis to crisis. This forced Brazilian firms to be nimble. But it also encouraged short-termism, which management consultants and academics finger as Brazilian managers’ number-one sin. Faced with a record drought in 2014, and a subsequent spike in energy prices in a hydropower-dependent country, Usiminas, a steelmaker, stopped smelting and started selling power it had bought on cheap long-term contracts. Energy sales made up most of its operating profits that year. Such short-term stunts are hardly the path to long-term greatness.
Worse, crisis management all too often consists of going cap in hand to the government. Brazilian bosses continue to waste hours in meetings with politicians that could be better spent improving their businesses. In January 2014, as vehicle sales flagged, the automotive industry’s reflex reaction was to descend on the capital, Brasília, and demand an extension of its costly tax breaks. Thanks to lifelines cast by the state, feeble firms stay afloat rather than sink and make room for more agile competitors. Shielded from competition by tariffs, subsidies and local-content rules, they have little reason to innovate. A locally invented gizmo which lets cars run on both petrol and biodiesel is nifty. But, asks Marcos Lisboa of Insper, a business school, does that really justify six decades of public support for the motor industry?
The dead hand of government
Indeed, a glance at the “Belgian” end of Brazil’s corporate landscape suggests that successful firms cluster in sectors the state has not tried desperately to help, such as retail or finance. Bradesco, a big lender, is internationally praised as a pioneer of automated banking. Each month Arezzo creates 1,000 new models of women’s shoes, and picks 170-odd to sell in its shops.
Brazil’s other world-beaters are in industries like agriculture and aerospace, which are free to compete at home and abroad, and in which the government sticks to its proper role. In 1990 farms were allowed to consolidate and to buy foreign machines, pesticides and fertiliser. Efforts by Brazil’s trade negotiators opened up export markets. JBS, a meat giant, can slaughter 100,000 head of cattle a day, selling more beef than any rival worldwide. Thanks in part to Embrapa, the national agriculture-research agency, Brazilian farms have been raising productivity by about 4% a year for two decades. Similarly, a supply of skilled engineers and know-how from the government’s Technological Institute of Aeronautics has helped turn Embraer, privatised in 1994, into one of the world’s most successful aircraft-makers.
The success of businesses such as these offers a lesson for the state. The best way to make Brazil’s underperforming firms more competitive would be to make them compete more. Coddling by the state can be more a curse than a blessing. Ronald Reagan’s dictum that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” translates well into Flemish, Hindi and Brazilian Portuguese.
FINANCE AND ECONOMICS
Brazil’s coming recession - The crash of a titan
Brazil’s fiscal and monetary levers are jammed. As a result, it risks getting stuck in an economic rut
IT IS easy for a visitor to Rio to feel that nothing is amiss in Brazil. The middle classes certainly know how to live: with Copacabana and Ipanema just minutes from the main business districts a game of volleyball or a surf starts the day. Hedge-fund offices look out over botanical gardens and up to verdant mountains. But stray from comfortable districts and the sheen fades quickly. Favelas plagued by poverty and violence cling to the foothills. So it is with Brazil’s economy: the harder you stare, the worse it looks.
Brazil has seen sharp ups and downs in the past 25 years. In the early 1990s inflation rose above 2,000%; it was only banished when a new currency was introduced in 1994. By the turn of the century Brazil’s deficits had mired it in debt, forcing an IMF rescue in 2002. But then the woes vanished. Brazil became a titan of growth, expanding at 4% a year between 2002 and 2008 as exports of iron, oil and sugar boomed and domestic consumption gave an additional kick. Now Brazil is back in trouble. Growth has averaged just 1.3% over the past four years. A poll of 100 economists conducted by the Central Bank of Brazil suggests a 0.5% contraction this year followed by 1.5% growth in 2016.
Both elements of that prediction—the mild downturn and the quick rebound—look optimistic. The prospects for private consumption, which accounted for around 50% of GDP growth over the past ten years, are rotten. With inflation above 7%, shoppers’ purchasing power is being eroded. Hefty price rises will continue. Brazil is facing an acute water shortage; since three-quarters of its electricity comes from hydroelectric dams, this is sapping it of energy. To avoid blackouts the government plans to deter use by raising prices: rates will increase by up to 30% this year. With the real losing 10% of its value against the dollar in the past month alone, rising import prices will bring more inflation.
There is little hope of disposable income keeping pace. One reason is that Brazilian workers’ productivity does not justify further rises. In the past ten years wages in the private sector have grown faster than GDP; cosseted public-sector workers have done even better (see chart 1). Since Brazil’s minimum wage is indexed to GDP and inflation, a recession will freeze real pay for the millions who earn it.
Austerity will bite, too, as Brazil’s new finance minister, Joaquim Levy, tries to balance the books. Higher taxes on fuel are being phased in, a blow for a car-loving country. If Mr Levy reforms the generous state pension, the incomes of older Brazilians will stall.
Debt payments add to the woes. Total credit to the private sector has jumped from 25% of GDP to 55% in the past ten years. With total household debt at around 46% of disposable income, Brazilian households are much less indebted than those in Italy or Japan. Yet the price of this borrowing is sky-high. Four-fifths of it is punishingly costly consumer credit (the average rate on new lending is 27%, according to the Central Bank). Once hefty principal payments are added in, debt service takes up 21% of disposable income. With the economy slowing and the Central Bank reluctant to cut interest rates because of high inflation, consumers will feel the pinch, says Arthur Carvalho of Morgan Stanley. On February 25th a survey put consumer confidence at a ten-year low.
There are few compensating sources of demand. Investment, which rose in eight of the ten years to 2013, often substantially, will sink in 2015. Petrobras, the partially state-owned oil giant that is Brazil’s largest investor, is mired in a corruption scandal that has paralysed spending: the affair may cost up to 1% of GDP in forgone investment. On February 24th Moody’s, a credit-rating agency, cut its debt to junk status; if Petrobras fails to publish audited results soon it may be unable to borrow at all.
Exporting is no answer, despite the falling real. Five countries—China, America, Argentina, the Netherlands and Germany—buy 45% of Brazil’s exports. Ten years ago these economies’ average GDP growth, weighted by their heft in Brazilian trade, was 12%; this year 5% would be good.
Yet the biggest worry is not that Brazil has a bad year, but that its broken policy levers mean that it gets stuck in a rut. Brazil spent 311.4 billion reais (6% of GDP) on interest payments in 2014, a 25% increase on 2013. This means that even if Mr Levy’s fiscal drive works—he is aiming for a primary surplus of 1.2% of GDP—Brazil will be nowhere near the black. The state’s outgoings have proved hard to control, with benefits payments rising despite falling unemployment. In a recession it will be harder still.
Brazil’s parlous finances leave no room for debt-financed stimulus. At 66% of GDP its gross public debt is the highest of the BRIC countries. Its bonds yield 13%—more than Russia’s. Rates could rise further. Fitch, a credit-rating agency, puts Brazil one notch above junk, but it has more debt, bigger deficits and higher interest rates than most countries in that category. If growth evaporates, a downgrade would be a certainty, raising debt costs even more.
Such predicaments are not uncommon, but Brazil’s monetary problems are. The governor of the Central Bank, Alexandre Tombini, must choose between two nasty paths. The first is a hard-money approach: keeping interest rates high despite the weak economy. This would prop up the real and boost the bank’s inflation-bashing credentials. But it is not just households that are hurt by high rates; firms are, too. In aggregate the big Brazilian firms Fitch rates have had negative cashflow since 2010. They have plugged the gap by running down savings and issuing debt. Borrowing is up by 23% in five years. With the risk of default rising, a fifth of these firms face a downgrade, in many cases imminent.
In reality, a tough monetary stance would have to be softened by an extension of Brazil’s lavish financial subsidies. State-owned banks like BNDES, a development bank, and Caixa Econômica Federal, a retail one, made 35% of loans in 2009. Today their share is 55%. Since many Brazilian firms cannot pay private market rates (the average rate for new corporate loans is 16%) BNDES lends at a concessionary rate, currently 5.5%. That makes banking in Brazil a fiscal operation, says Mansueto Almeida, an expert on the public finances. The funding comes from the state, which borrows at a much higher rate than firms pay. The difference, a loss, is borne by taxpayers.
The alternative path for Mr Tombini to go down is to cut rates despite rising inflation—a daring move given Brazil’s history. The cause of price increases, after all, is not an overheating economy, but the real’s fall, rising taxes and the drought. The textbook response would be to “see through”—ie, ignore—this inflation.
But soft money would hurt, too. It would cause the real to fall further, and thus accelerate increases in the prices of imported goods. Foreign debts, which Brazilian firms and local governments have accumulated due to the lower interest rates on offer, would become harder to bear. Data collected by the Bank for International Settlements show dollar debts rising from $100 billion to $250 billion over the past five years. But the burden in local-currency terms has jumped much more, from around 210 billion reais to 655 billion reais (see chart 2). The state lends a hand here too, with the central bank offering swap contracts to insure firms against a falling real. The scheme cost the bank 38 billion reais in the second half of last year alone.
Faced with these poisonous options, a middle path is most likely. Interest rates will be too high for households and firms, so subsidised funding will grow. But they will be too low to protect the real, so swap costs will rise, too. Both subsidies put extra pressure on the government’s finances. By mixing monetary and fiscal policy in this way, Brazil is slowly rendering both ineffective. In an economy heading for recession, that is not a good place to be.
terça-feira, 4 de junho de 2013
Desde 2003 o Brasil não tem qualquer modelo, nenhum, necas de pitibiribas, zero...
Os companheiros primeiro adotaram, sem dizer, todos os grandes mecanismos e ferramentas da política econômica anterior, desavergonhadamente (mas acertadamente, graças ao Palocci, é preciso reconhecer). Roubaram o software dos tucanos, como já disse José Carlos Mendonça de Barros, sem pagar royalties, nenhum direito autoral, e isso mesmo acusando uma "herança maldita" que eles mesmos tinham criado com suas receitas esquizofrênicas de política econômica aprovadas no congresso de Olinda (dezembro de 2001) do seu partido companheiro (e felizmente nunca aplicadas inteiramente).
Depois que o companheiro neoliberal se foi, por outras patifarias que tem mais a ver com seus costumes e vícios degradados do que com a política econômica, esta começou a se deteriorar lentamente, sob as mãos e as patas dos novos responsáveis econômicos, keynesianos de botequim e provavelmente nem isso, pois nunca tiveram uma educação econômica razoável, se contentando com o software alheio e o temor de fazer errado.
Como o Brasil surfou na bonança mundial, e chinesa, tudo andou bem durante algum tempo.
Agora os maus tempos chegaram, e junto a consequência de sua inação irracional em preparar o Brasil para esse fim de bonança: os companheiros não sabem o que fazer e ficam improvisando no puxadinho setorial, sem qualquer ação coerente sobre o conjunto ou no contexto adequado. Uma redução de impostos para os amigos da corte aqui, uma proteção tarifária ali, este crédito subsidiado para os nossos amigos, aquela concessão enviesada acolá, enfim, uma panóplia de medidas desconectadas que só poderiam dar no que deu: em nada.
No final de tudo, as empresas ficam onde estavam: sem horizonte seguro para investir, e com a mesma alta carga tributária de sempre, pois os companheiros são incapazes de fazer uma verdadeira reforma fiscal que desonere a produção e estimule o investimento.
Eles simplesmente não conseguem se libertar de seu vício fundamental que é amar o Estado sobre todas as coisas. Vão ficar com um Estado moribundo e nós, trabalhadores e consumidores, no pior dos mundos possíveis.
Paulo Roberto de Almeida
quarta-feira, 15 de agosto de 2012
terça-feira, 14 de agosto de 2012
Brazil creates its own economic woes
BY SUSAN KAUFMAN PURCELL
Brazil’s economic future does not look nearly as bright as its recent past. Since 2010, when the country registered GDP growth of 7.5 percent, its economy has slowed dramatically. Last year, the country’s GDP growth reached only 2.7 percent. Brazil’s central bank expects growth for 2012 to reach only 1.9 percent, while Credit Suisse projects only 1.5 percent growth.
The most obvious cause of Brazil’s poor economic outlook is the collapse of the commodities boom, which had greatly benefited Brazil — a major exporter of energy, raw materials and food. The boom had been driven by China’s increasing demand for these commodities as a result of a decade of annual GDP growth of 9-11 percent. Brazil became a major exporter to China. Unfortunately, the U.S. recession reduced U.S. demand for Chinese exports, which in turn caused the Chinese economy to contract. Europe’s economic meltdown exacerbated China’s problem. As a result, Brazil’s exports to China decreased by more than half during the first six months of 2012.
New breakthroughs in energy technology also have begun to raise questions about Brazil’s ability to become an energy superstar, despite the country’s discovery of billions of barrels of offshore “pre-salt” oil and gas reserves. For years, energy experts have known that vast quantities of oil and gas were trapped between the layers of shale rock deposits. A process called horizontal drilling has brought down the cost of recovery from between the layers of shale.
As a result of horizontal drilling and a process called “fracking,” whereby large amounts of water and chemicals are injected under pressure into the shale, the recovery costs have dramatically decreased.
The estimated cost of producing a barrel of oil from shale is $70. This currently is less than the cost of producing a barrel of oil from Brazil’s pre-salt reserves, which some analysts have placed at over $100 per barrel.
Furthermore, shale exists in abundance. The largest deposits are in the United States, whose production of crude oil has increased 15 percent since 2008, making it the world’s fastest-growing oil and natural gas producer. The U.S. Energy Department projects that the daily U.S. output of oil could reach almost seven million barrels per day by 2020.
Others think that it could ultimately hit 10 million barrels per day, which would place the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia. Brazil currently produces about 2.5 million barrels per day of oil.
The accessibility of oil from shale means that there will be abundant oil for years to come. This also means that world oil prices will continue to decline. Given this situation, Brazil needs to quickly begin reducing the cost of producing its pre-salt oil. Unfortunately, Brazil is going in the wrong direction, as the government continues to insist on demanding a high percentage of local content in the production of ships, drills and other assets needed to exploit its pre-salt reserves.
Growing Brazilian protectionism is also making Brazilian products increasingly less competitive. Brazil recently backed away from an automotive agreement with Mexico, forcing Mexico to limit the number of cars it exports to Brazil. The reason — Brazilian cars could not compete successfully with those produced in Mexico because of higher Brazilian costs, despite the cost of transportation and delivery from Mexico.
In addition, Brazil remains locked in Mercosur, a dysfunctional and increasingly protectionist common market in which political criteria take precedence over economic ones regarding trade decisions within the bloc. Compare this with the recent decision by Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico to form a “Pacific Alliance” to reduce trade barriers among themselves while trying to increase their trade with Asia.
Some of Brazil’s economic problems have external causes. Nevertheless, Brazil’s growing economic protectionism and its failure to adapt more quickly to a changed global economic environment are problems that Brazil could and should solve.
An obvious place to start is to reverse its protectionist policies and instead implement the long-delayed labor, tax and education reforms in order to reduce the cost of doing business in Brazil and increase the country’s international competitiveness.
Susan Kaufman Purcell is the director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.