Surplus in Brazil balance of trade sets new record in 2021

Exports surpassed imports by $61.01 billion

Published in 04/01/2022 - 11:23 By Wellton Máximo - Brasília

Boosted by the quick increase in commodity prices, Brazil’s balance of trade closed out 2021 with a record. Last year, the country exported $61.01 billion more than it imported—the best performance in the time series started in 1989.

The result is up 21.1 percent from 2020’s $50.39 billion trade surplus. Compared to the previous record, observed in 2017, the increase reached 8.9 percent. Back then, Brazil had exported $56.04 billion more than it imported.

Despite the achievement, the final number was below the expectations of the Economy Ministry, which had predicted the surplus in the balance of commerce would close out 2021 at $70.9 billion. The final result, however, was above the forecast in the Focus market readout—a weekly survey with market analysts published by the Central Bank—which estimated a $59.15 billion surplus last year.

Last year, exports reached a new record. Brazil’s sales to other countries added up to $280.39 billion—up 34 percent from 2020 using the daily average criterion. The previous record had been seen in 2011, when the country exported $253.67 billion.

Pulled by the economic recovery and the increase in the price of oil globally, imports grew more steeply. Last year, Brazil imported $219.39 billion—up 38.2 percent from 2020, also under the daily average criterion. Despite the increase, the value imported ranked fifth highest in history, preceded by the amount recorded in 2013 (a record-setting $241.5 billion), 2014, 2011, and 2012.


In December, the balance of trade showed a positive $3.948 billion. The surplus rose 39.3 percent from December 2020 as per the daily average. Nonetheless, the result is far from the monthly record of $5.617 billion, registered in December 2018.

Both exports and imports set a new record in December. Last month, sales overseas added up to $24.37 billion, up 26.3 percent from December 2020 under the daily average criterion. Imports totaled $15.749 billion, up 26 percent in the same comparison.


In a product-based approach, the increased value of commodities boosted exports in 2021. Last year, shipped goods went up a mere 3.5 percent from 2020. Prices surged at an average 28.3 percent in the same comparison, with highlights for iron ore, which became 64.9 percent more expensive, crude oil (+58.9%), and soybeans (+30.3%).

Due to the crash in the corn harvest, impacted by the drought and frost, exports of the product sank 27.5 percent in 2021 compared to 2020. The amount shipped plunged 40.6 percent, whereas the price grew 21.9 percent. As for sugars and molasses, which also endured harvesting issues, exports went up 4.8 percent. The amount sold fell 11 percent, but the price increased 17.7 percent.

The suspension of beef by China, effective for a good portion of the second half-year, brought the amount sold down to seven percent in 2021. The price, however, rose 18.9 percent in all of last year, bringing exports to a final seven percent high.


For 2022, the government estimates a surplus of $79.4 billion—not far from this year’s prediction. The estimate brings into account the new methodology for calculating the country’s balance of trade. Projections are more optimistic than their financial market counterparts. The Focus readout predicts a $55 billion surplus this year.

In April last year, the Economy Ministry changed the calculation of the balance of trade. Among the main changes are the removal of the fictional exports and imports of oil rigs. In these transactions, oil platforms that never left the country were counted under exports after being registered at a Petrobras subsidiary overseas, and under imports following registration in Brazil.

Changes also include the inclusion of electric energy produced by the Itaipu plant and purchased in Paraguay under imports—a total of $1.5 billion a year—along with the purchases made under program Recof, which grants tax breaks for imports in the production of goods to be exported. The entire time series starting in 1989 has been revised under the new methodology.

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: Aline Leal

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