Brazil Table of Contents

Since the early colonial period, expectations have loomed large about mineral riches hidden in Brazil's vast territory. However, the full extent of the country's mineral wealth is still unknown. Various efforts have been made to survey the country, one of which uncovered the Greater Carajás mineral province in the eastern Amazon (see fig. 9). Yet, at the beginning of the 1990s only 10 percent of the country's subsoil was known in sufficient detail. Correspondingly, the share of mining in GDP has increased but remains small; in 1950 it was only 0.4 percent, rising to 0.8 percent in 1970, to 1.0 percent in 1980, and to 2.5 percent in 1986, but declining to 1.5 percent in 1990.

The value of mineral production expanded from US$5.4 billion in 1980 to US$13.0 billion in 1990. However, only ten minerals--crude oil, iron, gold, calcium ore, natural gas, bauxite, phosphate, granite, cassiterite, and zinc--accounted for 85.5 percent of this total; crude oil alone accounted for 37.6 percent of the total, and both iron ore and gold accounted for 11.4 percent each. Apparently, the exploration of several other mineral substances has great potential, but such efforts have yet to be realized.

Advances in the early 1990s included the Greater Carajás project, which involves the production and export of iron ore, products of the bauxite-aluminum complex, and manganese, among other minerals. Overall, exports of mineral products expanded substantially, and there was a considerable import substitution of mineral inputs. In 1974 the trade balance of the mineral sector (primary, semiprocessed, and manufactured minerals) was a negative US$2.5 billion, and the deficit increased, reaching US$10.7 billion in 1980. However, by 1985 the deficit had declined to US$0.6 billion and thereafter the trade balance showed growing surpluses (US$1.1 billion in 1988, US$1.3 billion in 1989, and US$1.6 billion in 1990). This reversal was caused by an expansion of exports, especially of iron ore, products of the bauxite-aluminum complex, and manganese, and to a significant extent by reductions in crude oil imports.

Brazil's mineral policy has been marked strongly by national security considerations. Until the early 1990s, foreign capital was mostly barred from the more attractive portions of the sector. Petroleum has been a state monopoly. Another state enterprise, the giant Rio Dôce Valley Company, Inc. (Companhia Vale do Rio Dôce--CVRD), has a large share of the iron ore deposits, and it has played an important role in the development of the bauxite-aluminum complex and of other minerals. CVRD is also a major railroad and shipping operator, by far Brazil's largest exporter, and its largest generator of foreign currency. In late 1994, foreign investment funds held about 10 percent of CVRD's stock. In 1995 there were still legal obstacles to foreign participation in Brazil's mineral sector.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress