Throughout Brazil's history, the economy has depended mainly on one product at a time. During the early years of settlement, sugar was the main export. When the soil on the sugar plantations began losing fertility, large deposits of gold were discovered. Throughout the 1700's, Brazil was gripped by "gold fever." As the profits from gold lessened, Brazil turned to agriculture again as the basis of the economy. But services, including tourism, are becoming an increasingly important part of the economy.
Services. Service industries employ many people and account for almost half of Brazil's economy. Leading service industries include education, finance, health care, domestic service, and businesses relating to tourism. Tourists come from all over the world, especially to Manaus, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro.
Manufacturing. Brazil is the leading industrial nation in Latin America. Many foreign companies have built factories in Brazil, although most industrial plants are owned by Brazilians.
Food processing and textiles are the industrial giants. Industry is centered in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro but is expanding rapidly in many other cities. Volta Redonda, for example, was once a tiny village. Today it has one of the largest steelworks in Latin America. The manufacture of automobiles, commercial vehicles, television sets, chemicals, and consumer goods is also growing rapidly in Brazil.
The most serious obstacle to industrial growth is the lack of mineral fuels such as coal and petroleum. The building of hydroelectric plants on Brazil's rivers has helped provide electricity. The country is also turning to nuclear power as a source of energy.
Agriculture. Agricultural products are Brazil's chief export. The nation is among the world's leading producers of soybeans, coffee, cacao (the source of cocoa and chocolate), sugar, corn, cassava (manioc), oranges, bananas, pineapples, tobacco, and cotton. Cotton is grown in the South for export and in the East to supply Brazil's textile industry. Beans, rice, and cassava are grown widely for local use. Jute, used for making burlap, sacking, and twine, was introduced by Japanese immigrants. In spite of Brazil's rich agriculture, however, some foods must be imported.
Brazil is now a major cattle-raising nation. It exports large quantities of meat and other animal products. Hogs are also raised extensively, as are horses and other animals.
Mining and Forestry. Iron ore is Brazil's leading single export. Manganese, bauxite, chrome, and many other minerals are mined, and new mineral discoveries are constantly being made. Wood is cut for export and is also processed into wood pulp, paper, and other products. However, because of the pollution problems from paper manufacturing, environmentalists are debating whether limits should be placed on this industry.
Fishing. Because meat, not fish, is a staple in the Brazilian diet, most fish is exported to other countries. Tuna, sardines, lobsters, and shrimp are caught in the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil's eastern coast.
Energy. Brazil has some offshore oil but otherwise must import petroleum. It relies on hydroelectric energy and nuclear power. The Itaipu hydroelectric power plant, on the Paraná River between Brazil and Paraguay, is one of the most powerful in the world.
Trade. Brazil sells its products to other countries to pay for imports of fuels and lubricants, machinery, chemicals, foods, and technology. Imports come mainly from western Europe, Japan, the United States, and Venezuela. Brazil is a partner with Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay in Mercosur, an economic common market established in 1991 that eliminated tariff barriers and made it easier for member nations to trade with one another. Many exports go to western Europe, Japan, and the United States. Brazil supplies many kinds of raw materials and consumer goods to other Latin American countries.
Transportation. Transportation in Brazil has always been difficult because the country is very large. Settlements, towns, and cities are far from one another, and mountains and forests often separate them. The Great Escarpment has made the construction of roads and rails slow. When Brazilians travel long distances, they have to travel by airplanes or buses because passenger railroads are inadequate. Roads on the coasts are good but crowded with traffic.
Air travel links all parts of Brazil. Brazil's domestic air network has become one of the world's busiest. There are many excellent harbors that are busy centers of world trade.
Communication. All major cities are linked by telephone. The country's telegraph system is being replaced by use of electronic mail. Brazil has hundreds of radio stations. The Globo television network is the fourth largest in the world, and many Brazilians receive cable programs by satellite from all over the world.