2019 Economic Outlook Brazil: Infrastructure and Reforms

On February 4th, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro delivered the yearly Message to National Congress, in its opening ceremony for the 2019 legislative year. This article is based solely on the official document, which is divided in five main chapters: Economy, Infrastructure, Society, Strategic Issues, and Public Administration. It covers highlights related to macroeconomic reforms and infrastructure. And a second post containing highlights related to Strategic Issues and Foreign Policy will follow.

Economic Overview

  • The country ended 2018 with a deficit of USD 14 bi for 12 months (0,7% of GDP).
  • Exports were impacted by the economic crisis in Argentina. However, soy exports to China increased in the second semester due to restrictions derived from US-China trade tensions.
  • The report states that the country faces low external vulnerability as a result of its international reserve volume (USD 380 bi) and the flow of its direct foreign investment.
  • Labour market still experiences high rates of unemployment, but shows slow recovery.
  • Macroeconomic reforms are proposed for social security, fiscal system, public administration, foreign trade liberalization, privatization, and the autonomy of Central Bank.

Fiscal Reform

Brasil faces two major problems in its fiscal system. First is the high tax rates, which can reach 33% of GDP. This is above the other emerging economies and other Latin American countries, which average 20% of GDP). Secondly, its tax system is highly complex. This demands high resources from both private and public sectors, and generates high levels of litigation disputes due to uncertainties. Current fiscal reform proposals are limited to measures that seek to simplify enforcement, reduce tax cost liability and reduce the cumulative effects of some federal taxes. The message also states the continuity of the New Fiscal Regime (or, NRF – Novo Regime Fiscal), introduced by the Constitutional Amendment No. 95, of December 15, 2016, which is relevant for the fiscal rebalancing of the Federal Government. This regime, also called the “spending ceiling” (teto de gastos), established a limit for federal primary expenditure.

Social Security Reform

Payment of Social Security benefits has been the main factor responsible for the increase in total public spending in the last 20 years. In addition, the growth of pension transfers tends to accelerate due to the rapid demographic transition that the country is experiencing. The fertility rate fell considerably between 1980 and 2015, from 4.1 to 1.7 children per woman, which implies lower population growth in the future.

Infrastructure

One of the main problems is the lack of intermodal infrastructure allowing for connections between the national network of seaports to other modes of transportation (road, rail and river). It is necessary to reduce costs by improving port efficiency, which implies integration with the railway and road networks, linking the main regions of the country. It is also imperative to reduce costs and deadlines for boarding and disembarking. The goal is to reach performance levels of ports in countries such as South Korea (Busan port), Japan (Yokohama port) and Taiwan (Kaohsiung port).

The Government plans to launch dredging and land infrastructure projects, as well as completing other projects that will increase its seaport infrastructure capacity by 11.25 million tons /year, 4.11 million tons m³ /year, 250 thousand TEU /year, 13 thousand passengers /year and 50 thousand vehicles /year. The immediate goal is to auction ten port terminals in order to expand current capacity.

In 2018, a bidding announcement was issued for the 30-year concession of 12 airports in the Northeast, Southeast and Mid-Western regions. For the next years, it is projected the continuity of the airport concessions through the release of other bidding blocks.

Its road network, has not received the volume of investments needed for keeping up with the economic activity. Recent surveys indicate that only 38% of the segments are classified as being of good or better conditions. The government estimates USD 7,08 bi in investments for the next 5 planned concessions, which will comprise around 5,000 km of highways.

Source: Mensagem ao Congresso Nacional 2019

Recently created government fund for secured infrastructure projects in Brazil

The other day a foreign investor who was looking into potential infrastructure projects in Brazil asked me whether the Brazilian Government makes use of Sovereign Guarantees, Bank Guarantees and/or SBLC’s to attract and secure foreign investors (ment).

At least for infrastructure, I believe the most suitable instrument would be the Brazilian Law 12.712/2012, Art. 32, which establishes the Infrastructure Guarantee Fund (or FGIE, Fundo Garantidor de Infraetsrutura).

This fund is managed by the Brazilian Guarantee Agency (or ABGF, Agência Brasileira Gestora de Fundos Garantidores e Garantias S.A.) and is operated through guidelines which regulate the direct guarantee awards (Regulamento de Operações para Outorga de Garantia Direta Pelo Fundo Garantidor de Infraestrutura), meant to offer risk coverage for noncompliance of pecuniary obligations assumed by the public partner in Public-Private Partnerships.

As of its latest report made publicly available (December 31st, 2017), this fund comprised the value of R$ 568.560.446,00 in total net assets (approx. USD 156.043.574,93 today; not very large due to its recent establishment), and applicable to specific concession operations including the following:

I – Major infrastructure projects included in the Growth Acceleration Program (or PAC, Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento) or strategic programs defined by the Executive Branch;

II – Projects resulting from Public-Private Partnerships in the form of Law 11.079/2004.

However, the exact answer to this question depends heavily on the sort of infrastructure project, value and nature of partnership sought in the country, amongst other specifics.

Brazilian government reduces import tariffs on ICT and capital goods

The Brazilian Foreign Trade Chamber (CAMEX) issued Resolutions No. 14 and 15/2018, reducing to zero percent the import tax on capital goods (780 items) and computer and telecommunications goods (50 items). The tariff reductions that entered into force on February 28th under the Brazilian Ex-tarifário regime are temporary and will be in place until December 31st, 2019 as established by the new resolutions.

The Brazilian Ex-tarifário regime consists of the temporary reduction of the tax on imports of goods when there is no equivalent national production. The special customs regime is intended to promote a reduction in the cost of investments and to produce a multiplier effect on employment and income on differentiated segments of the national economy. Camex Resolution No. 66/2014 established the rules for the concession of the Ex-tarifário regime.

2018 Economic Outlook Brazil: Structural Reforms

This is the second chapter of the series of posts on the “2018 Economic Outlook Brazil” that is based on the Presidential Message delivered to the Brazilian National Congress in February, 2018 by President Temer. The official document, in its entirety, advises on the key national policies divided into five central pillars: Economy, Infrastructure, Social, Foreign Affairs and Public Administration.

Read below the policy highlights on Structural Reforms. The other posts are Regulated Markets and Foreign Policy.

1. Economic Outlook

The year 2017 presented the end of the longest economic recession ever recorded in the Brazilian history. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is increasing, inflation has slowed and unemployment and interest rates dropped. The year ended with an inflation rate of 2.95% p.y. (Extended National Consumer Price Index, or IPCA for Portuguese) and with the basic interest rate of 7% p.y. (Selic – Sistema Especial de Liquidação e de Custódia), the lowest since 2002.

Desempenho PIB 2017

2. Cash Withdraws From Severance Funds

Cash withdraw measures adopted in 2017, from public funds, contributed to the reduction of household debt and the expansion of consumption. The Federal Government facilitated access to the FGTS accounts (Guarantee Fund for Length of Service) of 26 million beneficiaries, which injected R$ 44 billion in the economy, along with the anticipation of R$ 2,2 billion in withdraws from 1,6 million retiring beneficiaries of the PIS/Pasep accounts (Social Integration Program and Heritage Formation Program for Public Servers).

3. Fiscal Reform

The Constitutional Amendment No. 95 of December 15, 2016 was responsible for creating the new Fiscal Regime, which limited public spending growth, modified the fiscal policy and, along with other proposals related to public accounts, reduced the uncertainties regarding fiscal policy conduct in the country.

4. Regime for the Fiscal Recovery of States

The Complementary Law No. 159 of May 19, 2017 established the Fiscal Recovery Regime (Regime de Recuperação Fiscal – RRF), seeking to enable the recovery and solvency of states suffering from serious financial crises. In general terms, when adopting the RRF, both State and Union recognize the financial imbalance of the State and specify the adjustment measures, with respective impacts and deadlines, as well as the sources of funding that will be used in the period of the recovery plan.

5. Modernization of Labor Laws

The labor market also presented significant changes and signs of mild recovery. The modernization of the labor laws, a reform approved in July 2017, resulted in the Law No. 13.467/2017, which updated the Consolidated Labor Laws (CLT) framework. The new structure reduces uncertainties and allows greater autonomy for workers and employers to enter into agreements. With the newly adopted legal framework, the government expects to reduce informality in employment and increase job posts and wages.

6. Social Security Reform

In 2017, Social Security registered a record deficit of R$ 268.7 billion. The National Congress is currently debating over its Social Security Reform as an essential component of the reform package for economic recovery, aimed at balancing the public social pension accounts.

The demographic dynamics of the country is imposing significant challenges on policy-making, and in the case of social security, the impacts are direct. Brazil is experiencing an increase in life expectancy, and consequently, in the amount and duration of payments of the security benefits. Added to this is the decrease of reproduction rates, which alters the proportion of active individuals in the job market. This is a relevant fact because the Brazilian social security system is based on simple allocation, being that active workers pay the benefits for those who have withdrawn from the labor market. In 1980, there were 13 adults for each elderly person. Today, there are nine adults for each elderly person. The demographic bonus for federal and state public servers is in an even more critical condition: 1,2 and 1,4 active worker for each beneficiary, respectively.

7. Long Term Rate for Public Financing

The new Long Term Rate (Taxa de Longo Prazo – TLP), established by Law No. 13.483 of September 21, 2017 replaced its former equivalent, as the basis for compensation on the main sources of long-term financing in Brazil. The new TLP will remunerate these financings when applied by the official credit operators contracted from January 2018 onwards. The new rate is composed by the variation of the National Consumer Price Index (Índice Nacional de Preços ao Consumidor Amplo – IPCA) and by a monthly prefixed interest rate that is based on the earnings of the National Treasury Notes – Series (NTN-B) for a five-year period. This term reflects the average time for the BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development) loans that use such rate as a basis for compensation.

Source: Presidential Message to Congress 2018 (adapted translation)

Legal Services in Brazil: Business environment, market opportunities and engagement strategy

Generally stating, legal services is a highly competitive sector in Brazil, and engaging in profitable business development often depends on persistent and long term relationship building as an inherent trait of the country’s business culture.

Traditionally, there is a vast area of legal specializations, all of which contain extensive and complex law structures that undergo frequent amendments. Furthermore, new sub-areas are emerging to show growing demand as in response to the more recent dynamics of the country’s economic and market’s development.

As an overview of the commercial structure, corporate accounts and large economic groups sit in the country’s financial hub – the city of São Paulo – and also, on a lower scale, in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Such centralization of accounts is generally consistent in cases of larger ventures held throughout other regions, whilst smaller accounts are negotiated through local offices.

International investment opportunities in Brazil are found within a vast range of segments from which different areas of legal services can benefit from. Throughout recent years, large investments have been particularly applied into the sectors of infrastructure and civil construction, creating high demands for quality legal advise from independent law firms for contract management. However, although through a short term analysis we may identify the stabilization of growth in governmental funding disbursement – which limits new players into larger governmental contracting schemes – and also, considering current crisis in former due diligence practices towards the realization of ROI from large national contractors, public biddings may still be a strong possibility for foreign practitioners provided with strategic local alliances and engaged support from well established groups of interests, including the execution of articulations for technical cooperation from diplomatic officials at institutional levels.

According to the report released in February of 2013 on Perspectives of Investment from BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development) – which strictly follows federal development financing policies – disbursements will considerably benefit the sectors of oil & gas, logistics, and aerospace industries, respectively. In this sense, market entrance for legal services related to such public biddings may be well planned and executed for large and medium sized law firms.

Alternatively, smaller businesses may explore more fragmented market opportunities such as legal disputes and out-of-court negotiations in the financial, consumer, and labour areas. Higher demand seems to be arising in these areas due to the particular effects of lower than estimated economic growth. The underachieved predictions, combined with recent – and quite sudden – eased access to credit have been contributing to the increase of delinquency rates from companies and individuals, and therefore augmenting litigations.

Lastly, it seems fortunately important to highlight the opportunities within the momentum of corporate tax planning and restructuring. This is a market move currently well observed through large leading consulting groups already present in the country such as Ernst & Young, PwC and KPMG, for example. Such legal services may be served by offices specialized in tax legislation.

But foremost, relationship building lies at the core of structuring any engagement strategy within the legal services and business community in Brazil. Besides mapping out and segmenting market opportunities based in the particular interests of the law firm, it is essential to carefully map and analyse specific related institutions – such as the Brazilian Bar Association and other influential organizations. Ultimately, identifying local law firms according to regional market strategies serves the purpose of developing a network of potential partnerships.

The one information source that seems to be especially relevant is the annual publication by Exame SA Advocacia, which concentrates not only a comprehensive sector analysis, but also ranks the 500 largest and most influential law firms in the country, along with including details on size, contact information and areas of commercial activity.