Import-Substitution Industrialization, 1945-64

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A review of the evolution and structural changes of the industrial sector since the end of World War II reveals four broad periods. The postwar period to 1962 was a phase of intense import substitution, especially of consumer goods, with basic industries growing at significant but lower rates. The 1968 to 1973 period was one of very rapid industrial expansion and modernization (between 1962 and 1967, the industrial sector stagnated as a result of adverse macroeconomic conditions). The 1974 to 1985 phase was highlighted by import substitution of basic inputs and capital goods and by the expansion of manufactured goods exports. The period since 1987 has been a time of considerable difficulties.

At the end of World War II, political and economic liberalism were reintroduced in Brazil. Getúlio Dorneles Vargas (president, 1930-45, 1951-54) was overthrown, democratic rule was reestablished, and the foreign-exchange reserves accumulated during the war made possible a reduction of trade restrictions. However, trade liberalization was short-lived. The overvalued foreign-exchange rate, established in 1945, remained fixed until 1953. This, combined with persistent inflation and a repressed demand, meant sharp increases in imports and a sluggish performance of exports, which soon led again to a balance of payments crisis.

Pessimistic about the future of Brazil's exports, the government feared that the crisis would have a negative impact on inflation. Consequently, instead of devaluing the cruzeiro, it decided to deal with the crisis through exchange controls. In 1951 the newly elected government of Getúlio Vargas enforced a recently established system of import licensing, giving priority to imports of essential goods and inputs (fuels and machinery) and discouraging imports of consumer goods. These policies had the unanticipated effect of providing protection to the consumer goods industry. Early in the 1950s, however, convinced that the only hope for rapid growth was to change the structure of the Brazilian economy, the government adopted an explicit policy of import-substitution industrialization. An important instrument of this policy was the use of foreign-exchange controls to protect selected segments of domestic industry and to facilitate the importation of equipment and inputs for them.

However, the move to fixed exchange rates together with import licensing drastically curtailed exports, and the balance of payments problem became acute. The system became nearly unmanageable, and in 1953 a more flexible, multiple-exchange-rate system was introduced. Under the latter, imports considered essential were brought in at a favored rate; imports of goods that could be supplied domestically faced high rates and were allotted small portions of the available foreign exchange. Similarly, some exports were stimulated with a higher exchange rate than those of traditional exports. This system continued to be the main instrument for the promotion of import-substitution industrialization, but the performance of the export sector improved only modestly.

Between 1957 and 1961, the government made several changes in the exchange-control system, most of which were attempts at reducing its awkwardness or at improving its performance with the advance of import-substitution industrialization. For this same purpose, the government also introduced several complementary measures, including enacting the Tariff Law of 1957, increasing and solidifying the protection extended to domestic industries, and offering strong inducements to direct foreign investment.

In the second half of the 1950s, the government enacted a series of special programs intended to better orient the industrialization process, to remove bottlenecks, and to promote vertical integration in certain industries. The government gave special attention to industries considered basic for growth, notably the automotive, cement, steel, aluminum, cellulose, heavy machinery, and chemical industries.

As a result of import-substitution industrialization, the Brazilian economy experienced rapid growth and considerable diversification. Between 1950 and 1961, the average annual rate of growth of the gross domestic product exceeded 7 percent. Industry was the engine of growth. It had an average annual growth rate of over 9 percent between 1950 and 1961, compared with 4.5 percent for agriculture. In addition, the structure of the manufacturing sector experienced considerable change. Traditional industries, such as textiles, food products, and clothing, declined, while the transport equipment, machinery, electric equipment and appliances, and chemical industries expanded.

However, the strategy also left a legacy of problems and distortions. The growth it promoted resulted in a substantial increase in imports, notably of inputs and machinery, and the foreign-exchange policies of the period meant inadequate export growth. Moreover, a large influx of foreign capital in the 1950s resulted in a large foreign debt.

Import-substitution industrialization can be assessed according to the contribution to value added by four main industrial subsectors: nondurable consumer goods, durable consumer goods, intermediate goods, and capital goods. Using data from the industrial censuses, the share of these groups in value added between 1949 and 1960 shows a considerable decline in the share of the nondurable goods industries, from nearly 60 percent to less than 43 percent, and a sharp increase in that of durable goods, from nearly 6 percent to more than 18 percent. The intermediate and capital goods groups experienced moderate increases, from 32 to 36 percent and from 2.2 to 3.2 percent, respectively.

A representative component of the nondurable group is the textile industry, the leading sector before World War II. Between 1949 and 1960, its share in the value added by industry as a whole experienced a sharp decline, from 20.1 percent to 11.6 percent. In the durable goods group, the component with the most significant change was the transport equipment sector (automobiles and trucks), which increased from 2.3 percent to 10.5 percent.

The lower increases in the shares of the intermediate and capital goods industries reflect the lesser priority attributed to them by the import-substitution industrialization strategy. In the early 1960s, Brazil already had a fairly diversified industrial structure, but one in which vertical integration was only beginning. Thus, instead of alleviating the balance of payments problems, import substitution increased them dramatically.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress