As Brazilian exports grow, China grabs larger share

Lia Valls — Foto: Leo Pinheiro/Valor
Lia Valls — Foto: Leo Pinheiro/Valor

Brazilian exports grew 34% year over year in value in 2021, more than offsetting the 5% loss reported in the previous year. The growth led to a record shipment of $280.6 billion last year, but had uneven distribution by destinations. The increase in shipments was almost all directed to China, which grabbed a larger share of Brazilian exports compared with before the pandemic. The Chinese share of the values shipped by Brazil rose to 31.3% last year from 28.7% in 2019. Asia as a whole advanced four percentage points in the same period, reaching 46% in 2021.

Exports to the United States, European Union and South America also grew last year compared with 2019, but at a lower rate than China’s 38,5% rise over the same period or than the average of Brazilian shipments, according to federal government data. With this, the American share in the value of Brazilian exports fell to 11.1% from 13.4%. The European Union had a small reduction, to 13% from 13.6%, but now holds the lowest share since official records began, in 1997. South America’s share shrunk to 12.1% from 12.6%. This is not the lowest share ever because last year, as the region’s economy suffered more due to the pandemic, its share was 10.8%.

The Foreign Trade Indicator (Icomex), which is surveyed by Fundação Getulio Vargas’s Brazilian Institute of Economics (FGV/Ibre) and considers the volume alone, excluding the price effect, shows growth in shipments to China. Even as there were slowdowns or even falls in some periods, the survey suggests that shipments to China are on the rise considering data since 2008, said Lia Valls, a research associate at Ibre. The volume exported by Brazil to the Asian country grew more than 360% in 2021 versus 2008, the Icomex shows. On the other hand, the volume shipped to the United States fell 18.6%, while exports to Argentina and the European Union dropped 30% and 28%, respectively, in the same comparison.

It is important to highlight the effect of volumes, Ms. Valls said, because the value shipped by Brazil last year grew predominantly by the price factor, driven by key items like agricultural and metal commodities. Iron ore had a prominent role. Still according to Icomex, the average price of exports rose 29.3% year over year in 2021. In volume, shipments increased at a much slower pace, 3.2%.

Structural and cyclical issues explain Asia’s largest share in Brazilian exports, said Livio Ribeiro, a researcher at Ibre and a partner at BRCG Economic Consultants. “The most structural issue is that we are developing an export agenda that is very complementary to the Asian value chain. This is true for China, which leads many of the region’s productive processes, but it includes other countries on the continent, such as Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and even Indonesia,” he said. That’s why the increase in export value in 2021 was not evenly distributed among the blocs, according to him. “About 90% of that margin went almost entirely to China.”

Brazil’s tariff structure for exports to the European Union, Mr. Ribeiro compares, is not very different from China, considering the prominent role of agricultural and metal commodities. “But Asia has been buying the incremental [volume], and this makes sense when you consider that China and Asia have been growing above the global average and the eurozone countries have been growing less than the United States.”

The long-term path in volumes follows similar logic, Ms. Valls said. The European Union has had much lower growth than Asia and the United States since the 2008 financial crisis, she recalled. The picture is similar to the recovery seen over the past year, after the first cycle of the pandemic, Mr. Ribeiro said, which is already the broader factor of the scenario, as Asia overcame the health crisis more quickly with the first variants of Covid-19 and resumed economic growth with more vigor.

In relation to South America, the Argentina factor weighs the most. For economists, there is no prospect of a faster recovery in the values exported to the region if there is no more sustained recovery of the Argentine economy over time. At the same time, Mr. Ribeiro said, there is also a reorganization of the automotive sector, with many factories settled in Argentina, which does not favor Brazil.

Source: Valor international

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