By Marcela Ayres
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil posted a trade surplus of $3.1 billion in February, official data showed on Monday, far stronger than forecast and confounding any expectations that the coronavirus outbreak might have dampened exports.
February’s figure was double the median consensus forecast in a Reuters poll of economists of a $1.5 billion surplus, a result of exports totaling $16.4 billion and imports reaching $13.3 billion.
Speaking to reporters in Brasilia, Herlon Brandão, undersecretary for foreign trade statistics, said any hit to Brazilian exports to No. 1 trading partner China resulting from the coronavirus outbreak has yet to be felt.
“The effect (of coronavirus) is probably gradual and is heterogeneous across sectors. It may yet have some effect in March, but it was not noticeable in February’s data,” Brandao said.
“On the contrary, we saw an increase in exports, an increase in trade,” he said, adding that soy exporters, for example, have not reported any changes.
Overall exports rose 15.5% in February from a year ago, and imports rose 16.7%, the figures showed. Exports to China, Hong Kong and Macau jumped 20.9%.
Despite the surprisingly high surplus in February, trade is still expected to be a net drag on Brazil’s economy this year. Exports are likely to suffer from a sharp slowdown in global growth, continued weakness in neighboring Argentina and now an anticipated steep fall in demand from China.
China accounts for almost 30% of Brazil’s exports, and its economy is likely to take a huge hit from the coronavirus outbreak, with growth forecast to fall to its lowest level in three decades.
So far, there has been little evidence that the real’s slide to a record low of 4.50 per dollar is boosting overseas demand for Brazilian goods, while imports are still expected to rise this year.
(Reporting by Marcela Ayres; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Chizu Nomiyama)