By Joe Leahy at Financial Times
Chinese exports to Brazil collapsed last month in the latest dramatic sign of the deepening recession in Latin America’s biggest economy.
Containerised exports from China to Brazil of goods ranging from automotives to textiles fell 60 per cent in January compared with a year earlier as the weak real limits Brazilians’ ability to buy imported goods, according to Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping company. Total volume of containerised imports into Latin America’s biggest economy halved, data showed.
“What we are seeing right now from China is not only a phenomenon for Brazil, we are seeing the same all over Latin America, declining [Chinese export] volumes into all the markets,” said Antonio Dominguez, managing director for Maersk Line in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. “It has been going on for several quarters but is getting more evident as we move into .”
China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner in a commercial relationship that developed rapidly during the commodity supercycle of the first decade of the century. But China’s economy has slowed since the bursting of a stock market bubble in the middle of last year that has sent shockwaves around the world. The Chinese economy grew at its slowest pace for a quarter of a century in 2015 and is expected to slow again this year.
The collapse in demand for imports from China was contrasted by a rise in exports from Brazil to Asia, including China. The long-awaited rebalancing of Brazilian trade follows a near 40 per cent depreciation of the real against the dollar over the past 12 months.
Brazil’s currency has been one of the worst performers in the emerging world after Latin America’s largest economy last year slipped into what is expected to be its worst recession in more than a century.
Economists expect Brazil’s gross domestic product to have contracted between 3 and 4 per cent in 2015 and are forecasting a further similar decline for 2016.
With Brazilian policymakers struggling to reset fiscal and monetary policy to steer a course through the economic crisis, the country’s floating exchange rate has been left to bear the brunt of the adjustment.
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“While currency depreciation has in the past been a precursor to debt problems, this time we expect it to be part of the solution,” said Edward Glossop, emerging markets economist with Capital Economics in a recent report. “Indeed, this is already happening. The improvement in Brazil’s trade balance in recent months has been striking.”
However, Mr Dominguez warned that shipping lines might be forced to raise what he said were lossmaking export freight prices for goods leaving Brazil, threatening the country’s nascent export boom. He added that any prolonged sharp imbalance between exports and imports to China would be unsustainable from a shipping point of view, with shipping lines needing to be able to fill containers in both directions.
Maersk said that the total volume of containerised imports into Brazil in January plunged 50 per cent year-on-year while exports jumped 6 per cent. In the fourth quarter of 2015, Brazil’s total volume of containerised trade fell 8 per cent against a year earlier, led by a 30 per cent fall in imports and partly offset by a 14.5 per cent increase in exports, according to data from Datamar which was prepared for Maersk.
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Containerised exports from Brazil into Asia, mainly China, increased by 13 per cent for dry goods and 18 per cent for refrigerated goods in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with a year earlier, the shipping line said.
Statistics from Brazil’s ministry of development, industry and trade show overall total trade between China and Brazil in 2015 was $66.3bn, down from a record high of $83.3bn in 2013.
“Whatever industry we take a look at in terms of imports into Brazil from Asia, it is on a downward trend,” said Nestor Amador, commercial director for Maersk Line in Brazil. “It seems rock bottom is yet to be hit.”