The Brazilian economy, which has expanded greatly since the mid-1990s, is slowing down. In fact, Brasilia estimates that the economy will grow by only 1.85 percent in 2012, compared to the 8 percent growth it saw in 2010. Growth in the country's real estate sector is also slowing, and there are signs of stress in Brazilian credit markets. Foreign direct investment has dropped from $12.4 billion in the first half of 2011 to $7.5 billion in the first half of 2012. Domestically, Brazilian companies are delaying an estimated $95 billion in investments. Brazil initially emerged from the international financial crisis unscathed, but South America's largest economy now faces serious economic challenges.
In response to these challenges, the government will implement several reforms to stimulate growth and curb spending. The reforms will address key areas such as infrastructure construction, labor relations, the pension system and the cost of electricity. A major goal for the government is to make Brazilian producers more competitive in domestic and international markets.
Reforms and Challenges
Brazil desperately needs to improve its outdated and insufficient infrastructure. As a part of the infrastructure reforms, the Rousseff administration will lead the effort to privatize Brazilian ports in much the same way it has led the effort to privatize the country's airports. Currently, Brazil's ports are operated by state or municipal governments, which struggle to maintain — let alone upgrade — the ports' dilapidated facilities. Privatization measures led by the Rousseff government will require congressional approval at the federal level.
The reforms will also address land transportation infrastructure. Media reports suggest that the Rousseff administration is planning to solicit bids from private companies to build 5,700 kilometers (roughly 3,500 miles) of highway and 5,000 kilometers of railway.
A Decisive Moment
In the wake of the international financial crisis, increased commodities exports — mostly to China — buoyed Brazil's economy. But now Brazil is feeling the effects of its weakening manufacturing sector and strong currency that, along with higher consumer confidence, have spurred a consumer boom in Brazil. Brazil's challenges in infrastructure and labor historically have significantly contributed to limiting Brazil's growth potential. Rousseff's proposed reforms, in addition to several other changes that have been initiated in recent months, will face enormous hurdles before they are implemented.
These challenges notwithstanding, Brazilian development has come to a decisive moment. The 1990s were a decade of chaotic reform that set the stage for a decade of stability. Stability allowed Brazil to take advantage of high commodity prices while building up a manufacturing sector that was protected from outside competition and designed to service the domestic market. However, the global downturn hit Brazil's manufacturers hard, forcing Brazil to face the limitations of its uncompetitive producers. Reducing taxes, improving infrastructure and lowering bureaucratic barriers are necessary steps in Brazil's ascendance as an international economic power. With a government willing to make politically difficult decisions and confront major power brokers, including unions, this downturn may end up being a boon for Brazil in its quest for global economic status.