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Brazil Information

With a population of nearly 200 million (2010) and a land mass of nearly 3.3 million square miles, Brazil is Latin America’s largest country in terms of both population and area. Having been first claimed by the Portugal in 1500 and first settled by the same in 1531, Brazil boasts another unique trait in that it is the only country in the Americas that speaks Portuguese as its official language. Originally, the Portuguese were primarily interested in a particularly hard type of tree, the pau brazil (brazilwood), which provided valuable red dye. However, these first settlers would also introduce a crop that would become very important in the history of Brazil: sugarcane. Brazil is, to this day, the world’s leading producer of sugarcane, accounting for nearly 25% of worldwide production. Sugarcane plays an important role in the Brazilian identity as it can be distilled to make cachaça, Brazil’s national spirit, which is the main ingredient in the ever-famous Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail.

Portugal ruled Brazil as a colony from Lisbon until 1808, when Portuguese royal fled the invading forces of Napoleon and established themselves in Rio de Janeiro, which thus became the seat for the entire Portuguese empire. This act marks the only instance in history of a European country being ruled from one of its colonies. The Brazilian drive for independence began once King João VI returned to Portugal in 1821. On September 7, 1822, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal and later that year named Dom Pedro I, King João VI’s eldest son, its first emperor. His son, Dom Pedro II, would go on to rule from 1831 to 1889, when Deodoro da Fonseca led a successful overthrow of the monarchy and established Brazil as a constitutional republic. Under this form of government, the presidency would alternate between the powerful states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais until 1930, when Getúlio Vargas headed a coup d’état and assumed power as dictator. Vargas maintained dominant power over Brazil until 1945 when democracy was reinstated.

Over the next two decades, Brazil would experience a period of relatively stable democracy, highlighted by Juscelino Kubitschek’s bold move of proclaiming Brasília as the country’s new capital. The new capital city was to be located in the center of the country in order to promote national unity and move influence away from the Southeastern coast, where Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo remained dominant. In 1964, a military coup established a regime that dominated the political arena until 1985 when democracy was permanently restored with the election of José Sarney. In 1994, Fernando Cardoso was elected president and implemented significant economic reforms that are credited with finally achieving stability in Brazil. Cardoso was reelected in 1998 and succeeded in 2002 by Luís Inacio Lula de Silva. As Brazil’s first working-class president, Lula would administer tight fiscal policies and gradual social reforms that allowed the country to take significant steps towards becoming the emerging global power that it is today. In January 2011, Dilma Vana Rousseff was inaugurated as the first woman president of Brazil and continues to focus on economic growth and the eradication of poverty as the country moves forward.

Brazil’s economy experienced solid performance and a strong recovery during the recent global financial crisis, achieving a growth rate of 7.5% in 2010. The country’s economy is expected to continue to grow in the 4-5% range over the next few years, and as of October 2011 is expected to surpass the United Kingdom as the world’s sixth largest economy. The International Monetary Fund has estimates that Brazil’s 2011 gross domestic product will reach $2.44 trillion. Furthermore, the Economist Intelligence Unit believes that by the end of the decade, Brazil’s GDP will exceed that of any other European country. The country’s economic boom coupled with a surge of foreign investment have driven up the value of the currency by 40% since the beginning of 2009. As of October 31, 2011, the Brazilian real is valued at around 1.75 per US$. Brazil is Latin America’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment as the government plans to invest significantly in off-shore oil, nuclear power, and infrastructure. With the arrival of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to Brazil, the country is faced with a tremendous opportunity to showcase itself on the world stage. Brazil is a member of “BRIC” economic grouping of emerging markets and also participates in the common market alliance of Mercosur, a customs union consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Very much like the diverse terrain that is found within its borders, Brazil’s economy is a unique mixture of agriculture, industry, and services. As mentioned before, the country is the world’s leading producer of sugarcane; however, Brazil also ranks number one in world production and exports of coffee concentrate orange juice and number two in soybeans, tobacco, beef, and poultry. Brazil is the world’s third largest agricultural exporter, behind only the United States and the European Union. Agricultural trade between the USA and Brazil exceeds $6.2 billion annually, with Brazilian exports making up nearly 90% of that total. Brazil is also a growing export market for the United States, as the country grows and demand rises for wheat, consumer-ready processed foods, and fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.

Brazil is home to the second largest industrial sector in the Americas and continues to expand as it looks to make use of the country’s wealth of natural resources and growing labor market. Major industries include automobiles, commercial aircraft, steel, computers, petrochemicals, lumber, and consumer durables. Finally, services make up the majority of the Brazilian economy, accounting for 66% of GDP. Banking, energy, and commerce continue to develop and sophisticate and tourism remains a strong driver along Brazil’s coastal areas and in the Amazon region.

As the world recovers from the throes of the economic downturn, many will look to emerging markets such as Brazil for new opportunities going forward. A country once know best for samba, Carnival, and its great soccer teams may soon be recognized as one of the great economic success stories of the past century. As the eyes of the world turn towards Brazil with the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games, we may have only begun to see the splendor that this country has to offer.

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