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Trinidade Beach at Paraty, Rio de Janeiro state.

Brazil is a nation of 206 million people in South America bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

It is the largest country in South America and its world ranking is 5th by population (after China, India, United States, and Indonesia) and area (after Russia, Canada, United States, and China, and just ahead of Australia).

In 2011, Brazil became the seventh largest national economy in the world, just behind Russia and ahead of the United Kingdom, France, and Italy.

Brazil shares common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador It is bounded on the north by Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, in the northeast by the Atlantic Ocean, in the east by the Atlantic Ocean, in the south by Uruguay, and in the west by Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia.


Its major environmental issues include:

  • deforestation in the Amazon Basin;
  • habitat destruction and a multitude of endangered plant and animal species indigenous to the area;
  • there is a lucrative illegal wildlife trade;
  • air and water pollution in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and several other large cities;
  • land degradation and water pollution caused by improper mining activities;
  • wetland degradation; and,
  • severe oil spills.

Following more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822, maintaining a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the subsequent proclamation of a republic by the military in 1889.

Brazilian coffee exporters politically dominated the country until populist leader Getulio Vargas rose to power in 1930.

By far the largest and most populous country in South America, Brazil underwent more than half a century of populist and military government until 1985, when the military regime peacefully ceded power to civilian rulers.

Brazil continues to pursue industrial and agricultural growth and development of its interior. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, it is today South America's leading economic power and a regional leader, one of the first in the area to begin an economic recovery.

Highly unequal income distribution and crime remain pressing problems.


Location: Eastern South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean

Geographic Coordinates: 10 00 S, 55 00 W

Area: 8,511,965 km2 (8,456,510 km2 land and 55,455 km2 water) This includes the Atlantic archipelago Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atol, and the islands Ilha da Trindade, Ilhas Martin Vaz, and Penedos de Sao Pedro e Sao Paulo

Land Boundaries: 16,885 km - border countries: Argentina 1,261 km, Bolivia 3,423 km, Colombia 1,644 km, French Guiana 730 km, Guyana 1,606 km, Paraguay 1,365 km, Peru 2,995 km, Suriname 593 km, Uruguay 1,068 km, Venezuela 2,200 km.

There is an uncontested boundary dispute between Brazil and Uruguay over Braziliera/Brasiliera Island in the Quarai/Cuareim River leaves the tripoint with Argentina in question.

Coastline: 7,491 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nautical miles
contiguous zone: 24 nautical miles
exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles
continental shelf: 200 nautical miles or to edge of the continental margin

Natural Hazards: recurring droughts in northeast; floods and occasional frost in south

Terrain: Mostly flat to rolling lowlands in north; some plains, hills, mountains, and narrow coastal belt. The highest point is Pico da Neblina (3,014 metres)

Climate: Mostly tropical, but temperate in south


Environment, Science, and Technology

About half of Brazil is covered in forests, and Brazil has the majority of the world's largest rain forest, the Amazon. A little less than 40% of the Amazon, and to a lesser extent the Cerrado (tropical savannah), is managed by national, state, or municipal governments, either as conservation units, forest concessions, or officially designated indigenous lands. In the last 30 years, migration into the Amazon and the conversion of forest land, primarily for agricultural use, reduced forest cover in the Brazilian Amazon by 20%. Through initiatives such as the revitalization of degraded pastures and forest, agriculture, and livestock integration, the government made progress in reducing deforestation for agricultural use. However, deforestation due to illegal logging remains a serious problem. In 2006, the government created the Brazilian Forest Service with the aim to manage the Amazon forest resources in a sustainable manner.

Including emissions from deforestation, Brazil is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. As part of its domestic commitments on climate change incorporated into legislation in 2010, Brazil inscribed a target of reducing emissions by 36.1%-38.9% below business as usual by 2020. This commitment includes further reductions in deforestation rates as well as advances on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Brazil also created a National Climate Change Fund, the country’s primary means for financing national climate change policies.

Figures from 2010 demonstrated that Brazil had reduced the rate of Amazon deforestation by more than 70%, its lowest rate of deforestation in over 20 years. Government officials predict that, at the current pace, Brazil’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 36.1%-38.9% could be reached by 2016 rather than 2020. Brazil also increased its programs in other biomes at risk for significant deforestation. At COP-16 in December 2010 in Cancun, the Brazilian Government delegation played an important role in developing a characterization of country commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the central outcome of the conference. These commitments could enable Protocol proponents to continue into a second commitment period.

Brazil is a regional leader in science and technology and a global leader in fields such as biofuels, agricultural research, deep-sea oil production, and remote sensing. The Brazilian Government seeks to develop an environment that is more supportive of innovation, taking scientific advances from the laboratory to the marketplace in order to promote economic growth. Yet it still faces some challenges. With the vast majority of the population living in urban areas, Brazil faces serious environmental obstacles in providing potable water to its citizens and removing and treating their waste water.

U.S. Government, private sector, and academic researchers have extensive ties with Brazilian counterparts. Areas in which there is close cooperation include biofuels, medical research, remote sensing, and agriculture. The extent of bilateral scientific and technological cooperation is expanding and prospective areas in which to expand include advanced materials, telecommunications, energy transmission, and energy efficiency. Limitations to cooperation include substantial restrictions on foreign researchers collecting or studying biological materials, due to concerns over possible unauthorized taking and commercialization of genetic resources or traditional knowledge of indigenous communities (often referred to as "biopiracy").

Biodiversity and Ecology

The Atlantic Forest or Mata Atlântica stretches along Brazil's Atlantic coast, from the northern state of Rio Grande do Norte south to Rio Grande do Sul. It extends inland to eastern Paraguay and the province of Misiones in northeastern Argentina, and narrowly along the coast into Uruguay. Also included in this hotspot is the offshore archipelago of Fernando de Noronha and several other islands off the Brazilian coast. Long isolated from other major rainforest blocks in South America, the Atlantic Forest has an extremely diverse and unique mix of vegetation and forest types. The most extensive woodland/savanna region in South America, the Cerrado (Biological diversity in the Cerrado) is also the only hotspot that consists largely of savanna, woodland/savanna and dry forest ecosystems. Within the region, there is a mosaic of different vegetation types, including tree and scrub savanna, grassland with scattered trees, and occasional patches of a dry, closed canopy forest called the cerradão. Gallery forests are found throughout the region, although they are technically not considered part of the typical Cerrado formations.

Chief threats to coral reefs in Brazilian waters derive from overfishing, and not climatic factors.(Rodríguez-Ramírez et al, 2008) Coral reef impacts from overfishing are pronounced on the densely populated north-east coast where many small and medium scale fisheries operate directly on coral reefs. Decline of indicator fish populations correlate directly with the level of fishing pressure, with fishing moving down the food chain from the large predator fish (groupers, snappers and sharks) to trap fishing. The traps take herbivorous fishes (parrotfish and surgeonfish) and virtually all other reef fish groups as bycatch. Few attempts have been made to manage coral reef fisheries resources in Brazil.


Source: World Wildlife Fund.

Terrestrial: Brazil includes 44 ecoregions that occur entirely or partly within the country as shown in the figure below: [1] Marajó varzea; [2] Guianan moist forests; [3] Guyanan savanna; [4] Gurupa varzea; [5] Uatuma-Trombetas moist forests; [6] Rio Negro campinarana; [7] Guianan piedmont and lowland moist forests; [8] Pantepuis; [9] Negro-Branco moist forests; [10] Caqueta moist forests; [11] Japurá-Solimoes-Negro moist forests; [12] Monte Alegre varzea; [13] Juruá-Purus moist forests; [14] Purus varzea; [15] Southwest Amazon moist forests; [16] Iquitos varzea; [17] Purus-Madeira moist forests; [18] Madeira-Tapajós moist forests; [19] Tapajós-Xingu moist forests; [20] Xingu-Tocantins-Araguaia moist forests; [21] Tocatins/Pindara moist forests; [22] Amazon-Orinoco-Southern Caribbean magroves; [23] Maranhão Babaçu forests; [24] Northeastern Brazil restingas; [25] Caatinga Enclaves moist forests; [26] Atlantic Coast restingas; [27] Southern Atlantic mangroves; [28] Pernambuco coastal forests; [29] Pernambuco interior forests; [30] Caatinga; [31] Atlantic dry forests; [32] Campos Rupestres montane savanna; [33] Bahia coastal forests; [34] Bahia interior forests; [35] Cerrado; [36] Mato Grosso seasonal forests; [37] Beni savanna; [38] Chiquitano dry forests; [39] Pantanal; [40] Humid Chaco; [41] Alto Parana Atlantic forests; [42] Uruguayan savanna; [43] Araucaria moist forests; [44] Serra do Mar coastal forests

See also:


Protected Areas

People and Society

Population: 205,716,890 (July 2012 est.) Note: Brazil conducted a census in August 2000, which reported a population of 169,872,855; that figure was about 3.8% lower than projections by the US Census Bureau, and is close to the implied underenumeration of 4.6% for the 1991 census

Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks fifth in the world. The majority of people live in the south-central area, which includes the industrial cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. Brazil underwent rapid urban growth; by 2005, 81% of the total population was living in urban areas. This growth aids economic development but also creates serious social, security, environmental, and political problems for major cities.

Six major groups make up the Brazilian population: the Portuguese, who colonized Brazil in the 16th century; Africans brought to Brazil as slaves; various other European, Middle Eastern, and Japanese and other Asian immigrant groups who settled in Brazil since the mid-19th century; and indigenous peoples of Tupi and Guarani language stock. Intermarriage between the Portuguese and indigenous people or slaves was common. Although the major European ethnic stock of Brazil was originally Portuguese, subsequent waves of immigration contributed to a diverse ethnic and cultural heritage.

From 1875 until 1960, about 5 million Europeans immigrated to Brazil, settling mainly in the four southern states of Sao Paulo, Parana, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. Immigrants came mainly from Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, Poland, and the Middle East. The largest Japanese community outside Japan is in Sao Paulo. Despite class distinctions, national identity is strong. Brazil prides itself on being open to all races. It recently began a national conversation on racial equality and entered into a memorandum of understanding with the United States on addressing racial inequality. Indigenous people, located mainly in the northern and western border regions and in the upper Amazon Basin, make up less than 1% of the population. Their numbers are declining as contact with the outside world and commercial expansion into the interior increase. Brazilian Government programs to establish indigenous reservations and to provide other forms of assistance for these groups have existed for years but are controversial.

Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. About three-quarters of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church; most others are members of traditional Protestant denominations, members of growing evangelical movements, or follow practices derived from African religions.

Brazil's earliest national capitals - Salvador and Rio de Janeiro - were coastal cities. Although these sites were well suited to trade, they were vulnerable to maritime raids. In the late 19th century, Brazilian leaders resolved to move the capital city inland. Large-scale construction of a new site, however, did not begin until the 1950s. On 22 April 1960, the nearly complete capital city of Brasilia opened. The city's pioneer status in urban planning prompted UNESCO to name Brasilia a World Heritage Site in 1987. This natural-color satellite image of Brasilia taken during the summer dry season - with just 3 cm (1 in) of rain - displays earth tones characteristic of non-irrigated dormant vegetation. Buildings and roads appear off-white, gray, or pale tan. The city, whose overall design has been compared to a bird or an airplane, among other shapes, sits west of an artificial lake, Lago Paranoa. The branching lake sends its tendrils deep into the city, helping separate the downtown area (image center) from residential areas to the north and southeast. Northwest of the city lies Brasilia National Park, protecting a large expanse of cerrado, the tropical savanna ecosystem natural to the area. Image courtesy of NASA.
A panoramic view of Iguazu Falls along the Brazil-Argentina border. The entire waterfall system consists of some 275 falls along 2.7 km (1.7 mi) of the Iguazu River. The falls are part of a nearly virgin jungle ecosystem surrounded by national parks on both sides of the cascades. The Iguazu River begins in Parana state of Brazil, then crosses a 1,200-km (750 mi) plateau before reaching a series of faults forming the falls.
In the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, verdant green Amazon Rainforest is broken up by broad tracks of pale green and tan deforested land. In 2005, the government of Brazil said that 48 percent of Amazon deforestation that took place in 2003 and 2004 occurred in Mato Grosso.</br> The transformation from forest to farm is evident in this pair of photo-like images (rollover the image to see an earlier image of the same area), taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. The top image was taken on June 28, 2006, while the rollover image is from June 17, 2002.</br> Although some deforestation is part of the country’s plans to develop its agriculture and timber industries, other deforestation is the result of illegal logging and squatters. The Brazilian government uses MODIS images such as these to detect illegal deforestation. Because the forest is so large and is difficult to access or patrol, the satellite images can provide an initial alert that tells officials where to look for illegal logging. Source: NASA. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz
O Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. The monument, which is 38 m (120 ft) tall and stands on Corcovado Mountain, is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone. Constructed over a period of nine years, the sculpture was dedicated in 1931. In 2007, it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Amazon Rainforest. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ethnic groups: white 53.7%, mulatto (mixed white and black) 38.5%, black 6.2%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 0.9%, unspecified 0.7% (2000 census)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 26.2% (male 27,219,651/female 26,180,040)
15-64 years: 67% (male 67,524,642/female 68,809,357)
65 years and over: 6.7% (male 5,796,433/female 7,899,650) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 1.102% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 17.48 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.38 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -0.09 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 72.79 years

male: 69.24 years
female: 76.53 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.16 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Portuguese (official and most widely spoken language); note - less common languages include Spanish (border areas and schools), German, Italian, Japanese, English, and a large number of minor Amerindian languages

Literacy: 88.6% (2004 est.)

Urbanization: 87% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 1.1% (2010-15 est.)


Pedro Alvares Cabral claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. The colony was ruled from Lisbon until 1808, when Dom Joao VI and the rest of the Portuguese royal family fled from Napoleon's army, and established its seat of government in Rio de Janeiro. Dom Joao VI returned to Portugal in 1821. His son declared Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822, and became emperor with the title of Dom Pedro I. His son, Dom Pedro II, ruled from 1831 to 1889, when a federal republic was established in a coup led by Deodoro da Fonseca, Marshal of the Army. Slavery had been abolished a year earlier by the Princess Regent Isabel while Dom Pedro II was in Europe.

From 1889 to 1930, the government was a constitutional republic, with the presidency alternating between the dominant states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. This period ended with a military coup that placed Getulio Vargas, a civilian, in the presidency; Vargas remained as dictator until 1945.

Brazil supported the Allies in both World Wars. During World War II, its expeditionary force in Italy played a key role in the Allied victory at Monte Castello.

Between 1945 and 1961, Brazil had six presidents: Jose Linhares, Gaspar Dutra, Vargas himself, Cafe Filho, Carlos Luz, Nereu Ramos, Juscelino Kubitschek, and Janio Quadros. When Quadros resigned in 1961, Vice President Joao Goulart succeeded him.

Goulart's years in office were marked by high inflation, economic stagnation, and the increasing influence of radical political elements. The armed forces, alarmed by these developments, staged a coup on March 31, 1964. The coup leaders chose Humberto Castello Branco as president, followed by Arthur da Costa e Silva (1967-69), Emilio Garrastazu Medici (1969-74), and Ernesto Geisel (1974-79), all of whom were senior army officers. Geisel began a democratic opening that was continued by his successor, Gen. Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo (1979-85). Figueiredo permitted the return of politicians exiled or banned from political activity during the 1960s and 1970s and allowed them to run for state and federal offices in 1982.

Concurrently, an electoral college consisting of all members of Congress and six delegates chosen from each state continued to choose the president. In January 1985, the electoral college voted Tancredo Neves from the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) into office as President. Neves died 39 days later, before his presidential inauguration, from abdominal complications. Vice President Jose Sarney became President upon Neves' death. Brazil completed its transition to a popularly elected government in 1989, when Fernando Collor de Mello won 53% of the vote in the first direct presidential election in 29 years. In 1992, a major corruption scandal led to his impeachment and, ultimately, resignation. Vice President Itamar Franco took his place and governed for the remainder of Collor's term.

To date, all democratically elected presidents that followed Itamar Franco started and finished their mandate with no interruptions in the constitutional order. On October 3, 1994 Fernando Henrique Cardoso was elected President with 54% of the vote. Cardoso took office January 1, 1995, and pursued a program of ambitious economic reform. He was re-elected in 1998 for a second 4-year term. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, was elected president in 2002, after his fourth campaign for the office. He was re-elected in 2006 for a second 4-year term. President Lula, a former union leader, was Brazil's first working-class president. In office, he took a prudent fiscal path, warning that social reforms would take years and that Brazil had no alternative but to maintain tight fiscal austerity policies. At the same time, he made fighting poverty through conditional transfer payments an important element of his policies.

In October 2010, Brazil held its sixth consecutive presidential and general elections since the reinstatement of democracy in 1985. About 130 million Brazilians, two-thirds of the country’s population, were eligible to vote, a mandatory civic duty. Up for election were the President, the governors of all 26 states and of the federal district of Brasília; all 513 federal deputies; 54 senators (two-thirds of the total); and 1,057 delegates to the 27 state assemblies.

Dilma Vana Rousseff, the Workers' Party (PT) candidate, won a runoff election against the Brazilian Social Democratic Party candidate, becoming the first woman president of Brazil. President Rousseff had previously served as the Minister of Mines and Energy and as the Chief of Cabinet in President Lula’s administration. Rousseff took office on January 1, 2011 and has prioritized growth with equity policies to eradicate poverty and fiscal austerity. She has been a vocal defender of human rights and promoter of social inclusion, most notably gender equality, and is generally seen as a strong advocate for transparency in government. Within the first year of her government, several cabinet ministers resigned at Rousseff's urging due to accusations of graft.

Brazil has traditionally been a leader in the inter-American community. It has played an important role in collective security efforts, as well as in economic cooperation in the Western Hemisphere.It is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) and a party to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty). Recently, Brazil has given high priority to expanding relations with its South American neighbors and is a founding member of the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI); the Union of South American Nations (UNASUL) created in June 2004; and Mercosul, the customs union of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, with Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador as associate members; Venezuela's full membership is pending.

Brazil is a charter member of the United Nations and participates in its specialized agencies. It has contributed troops to UN peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cyprus, Mozambique, Angola, East Timor, and most recently Haiti. Brazil is currently leading the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti. In 2010-2011, Brazil served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Prior to this, it had been a member of the UN Security Council nine times. Brazil is seeking a permanent position on the Council.

As Brazil's domestic economy has grown and diversified, the country has become increasingly involved in international economic and trade policy discussions. For example, Brazil was a leader of the G-20 group of nations and in 2009 became a creditor country to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The U.S., Western Europe, and Japan are primary markets for Brazilian exports and sources of foreign lending and investment. China is a growing market for Brazilian exports. Brazil also bolstered its commitment to nonproliferation through ratification of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signing a full-scale nuclear safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), acceding to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, and joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


Brazil is a federal republic with 26 states and a federal district. The 1988 constitution grants broad powers to the federal government, made up of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president holds office for 4 years, with the right to re-election for an additional 4-year term, and appoints the cabinet. There are 81 senators, three for each state and the Federal District, and 513 deputies. Senate terms are 8 years, staggered so that two-thirds of the upper house is up for election at one time and one-third 4 years later. Chamber terms are 4 years, with elections based on a complex system of proportional representation by states. Each state is eligible for a minimum of eight seats; the largest state delegation (Sao Paulo's) is capped at 70 seats. This system is weighted in favor of geographically large but sparsely populated states.

States of Brizil. Source: João Felipe C.S/Wikipedia

Government Type: Federal republic

Capital: Brasilia - 3.789 million (2009)

Other Major Cities: Sao Paulo 19.96 million; Rio de Janeiro 11.836 million; Belo Horizonte 5.736 million; Porto Alegre 4.034 million (2009)

Administrative Divisions: Brazil is organized into 26 states ("Estados") and 1 federal district* (distrito federal). The States/Estados are (see map right): 1. Acre, 2. Alagoas, 3. Amapa, 4. Amazonas, 5. Bahia, 6. [Ceara]], 7. Espirito Santo, 8. Goias, 9. Maranhao, 10. Mato Grosso, 11. Mato Grosso do Sul, 12. Minas Gerais, 13. Para, 14. Paraiba, 15. Parana, 16. Pernambuco, 17. Piaui, 18. Rio de Janeiro, 19. Rio Grande do Norte, 20. Rio Grande do Sul, 21. Rondonia, 22. Roraima, 23. Santa Catarina, 24. Sao Paulo, 25. Sergipe, and 26. Tocantins. Districto Federal is 27 in the map.

Independence Date: 7 September 1822 (from Portugal)

Legal System: civil law; note - a new Brazilian civil law code was enacted in 2002 replacing the 1916 code. Brazil has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International Criminal Court (ICCt) jurisdiction.

Whether seen at night or during the day, the capital city of Brazil is unmistakable from orbit. Brasilia is located on a plateau - the Planalto Central - in the west-central part of the country, and is widely considered to be one of the best examples of 20th century urban planning in the world. One of its most distinctive design features - as seen from above - suggests a bird, butterfly, or airplane traveling along a northwest-southeast direction, and is made dramatically visible by city light patterns (image center right, between Lake Paranoa and the airport). Following the establishment of Brasilia in the early 1960s, informal settlements began to form around the original planned city. Ceilandia was one such settlement. In 1970, Ceilandia was formalized by the government and is now a satellite city of Brasilia with its own distinct urban identity. The developed areas of Brasilia and its satellites are clearly outlined by street grids and highway lights in this photograph taken from the International Space Station. The large unlit region to the upper right is the Brasilia National Park. Image courtesy of NASA.

International Environmental Agreements

Brazil is party to international agreements on: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, the Convention on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.


For general purposes, Brazil can be divided into three river basins namely the Amazons, Tocantins and São Francisco; and two basin complexes:

  • the Plata river that has three Brazilian sub-river basins (Paraná, Upper Paraguay and Uruguay); and,
  • the remaining rivers flowing into the Atlantic that are divided into several basins.

The Amazon and the Tocantins-Araguaia basins in the north account for 56% of Brazil's total drainage area. The Amazon River, the world's largest river in volume of water and second longest after the Nile, is navigable by ocean steamers as far as Iquitos in Peru. The Paraná-Paraguay river system drains the south-western portion of the state of Minas Gerais. Brazil's two southernmost states are drained through the Uruguay River also into the Plata River. The São Francisco River is the largest river entirely within Brazil, flowing for over 1,609 km northward before it turns eastward into the Atlantic. The last 277 km of the lower river is navigable for ocean-going ships.

See Water profile of Brazil

Total Renewable Water Resources: 8,233 cu km (2000)

Freshwater Withdrawal: 59.3 cu km/yr (20% domestic, 18% industrial, 62% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 318 cu m/yr (2000)


Agriculture is a major sector of the Brazilian economy, and is key for economic growth and foreign exchange. Agriculture accounts for about 6% of GDP (25% when including agribusiness) and 36% of Brazilian exports. Brazil enjoyed a positive agricultural trade balance of $55 billion in 2009. Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugarcane, coffee, tropical fruits, frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ), and has the world's largest commercial cattle herd (50% larger than that of the U.S.) at 170 million animals. Brazil is also an important producer of soybeans (second to the United States), corn, cotton, cocoa, tobacco, and forest products. The remainder of agricultural output is in the livestock sector, mainly the production of beef and poultry (second to the United States), pork, milk, and seafood.

Agricultural products: coffee, soybeans, wheat, rice, corn, sugarcane, cocoa, citrus; beef

Irrigated Land: 45,000 sq km (2008)


According to Oil and Gas Journal (OGJ), Brazil had 11.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in 2006, second-largest in South America only to Venezuela. OGJ reported that Brazil had 11.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves in 2006. The Campos and Santos Basins hold the majority of reserves, but there are also sizable reserves in the interior stretches of the country. In 2003, Brazil had 11.1 billion short tons of recoverable coal reserves, the second largest in the Western Hemisphere, behind the United States. The country consumed 23.5 million short tons (Mmst) and produced 6.2 Mmst in 2004. Brazil is attempting to reverse its status as a net importer of coal. According to reports, Brazil's national development bank, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (BNDES), is developing a plan to expand the country's coal industry. BNDES hopes that the proposed program will make Brazil self-sufficient in coal by 2010 and eventually a net exporter of coal.

Brazil had 86.5 gigawatts of installed generating capacity in 2004, with the single largest share being hydroelectricity. In 2004, the country generated 380.9 billion kilowatt-hours (Bkwh) of electric power, while consuming 391.7 Bkwh. Most imported electricity comes from Argentina.

The Government of Brazil undertook an ambitious program to reduce dependence on imported oil. In the mid-1980s, imports accounted for more than 70% of Brazil's oil and derivatives needs; the net figure is now zero. Brazil announced in early 2008 the discovery of pre-salt oil fields off the coast of Brazil. The oil reserves in these fields are conservatively estimated at between 30 billion and 80 billion barrels, which would make Brazil one of the top 10 countries worldwide in reserves. Output from the existing Campos Basin and the discovery of the new fields could make Brazil a significant oil exporter by 2015. Brazil is one of the world's leading producers of hydroelectric power. Of its total installed electricity-generation capacity of 112,000 megawatts, hydropower accounts for 77,000 megawatts (69%). Brazil is also one of the world’s largest biofuels producers, and sugar-based ethanol comprises over 50% of its vehicle fuel usage. Brazil and the United States, as the world’s largest biofuels producers, have worked jointly through a 2007 memorandum of understanding to help make sustainable biofuels a global commodity. In 2011, that memorandum was subsumed under the Strategic Energy Dialogue, a partnership announced by President Rousseff and President Barack Obama when the latter visited Brazil in March.

See Energy profile of Brazil


Like its supply of carbon-based fossil fuels, Brazil’s proven mineral resources are extensive. Large iron and manganese reserves are important sources of industrial raw materials and export earnings. Mining companies, most of them Brazilian, tend to prefer to explore the deposits of nickel, tin, chromite, bauxite, beryllium, copper, lead, tungsten, zinc, gold, and other minerals. High-quality, coking-grade coal required in the steel industry is in short supply.

Natural Resources: bauxite, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, platinum, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, petroleum, hydropower, timber

Land Use:

arable land: 6.93%
permanent crops: 0.89%
other: 92.18% (2005)


Characterized by large and well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors, Brazil's economy outweighs that of all other South American countries, and Brazil is expanding its presence in world markets.

Since 2003, Brazil has steadily improved its macroeconomic stability, building up foreign reserves, and reducing its debt profile by shifting its debt burden toward real denominated and domestically held instruments.

In 2008, Brazil became a net external creditor and two ratings agencies awarded investment grade status to its debt.

After record growth in 2007 and 2008, the onset of the global financial crisis hit Brazil in September 2008. Brazil experienced two quarters of recession, as global demand for Brazil's commodity-based exports dwindled and external credit dried up. However, Brazil was one of the first emerging markets to begin a recovery.

The Brazilian economy’s solid performance during the 2008 financial crisis and its strong and early recovery, including 2010 growth of 7.5%, have contributed to the country’s transition from a regional to a global power. Expected to grow 3.5% in 2011 and 4.0% in 2012, the economy is the world’s seventh-largest and is expected to rise to fifth within the next several years. During the administration of former President Lula, surging exports, economic growth, and social programs helped lift tens of millions of Brazilians out of poverty. For the first time, a majority of Brazilians are now middle-class, and domestic consumption has become an important driver of Brazilian growth. President Dilma Rousseff, who took office in January 2011, has indicated her intention to continue the former president’s economic policies, including sound fiscal management, inflation control, and a floating exchange rate.

Rising inflation led the authorities to take measures to cool the economy; these actions and the deteriorating international economic situation slowed growth to 2.7% for 2011 as a whole, though forecasts for 2012 growth are somewhat higher. Despite slower growth in 2011, Brazil overtook the United Kingdom as the world's seventh largest economy in terms of GDP. Urban unemployment is at the historic low of 4.7% (December 2011), and Brazil's traditionally high level of income equality has declined for each of the last 12 years. Brazil's high interest rates make it an attractive destination for foreign investors. Large capital inflows over the past several years have contributed to the appreciation of the currency, hurting the competitiveness of Brazilian manufacturing and leading the government to intervene in foreign exchanges markets and raise taxes on some foreign capital inflows.

Brazil is generally open to and encourages foreign investment. It is the largest recipient of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latin America, and the United States is traditionally the top foreign investor in Brazil. Since domestic savings are not sufficient to sustain long-term high growth rates, Brazil must continue to attract FDI, especially as the government plans to invest billions of dollars in off-shore oil, nuclear power, and other infrastructure sectors over the next few years. The major international athletic competitions that Brazil will host every year until the 2016 Rio Olympics are also leading the government to invest in roads, airports, sports facilities, and other areas.

Trade Policy
President Rousseff has made economic growth and poverty alleviation top priorities. Export promotion is a main component of plans to generate growth and reduce what is seen as a vulnerability to international financial market fluctuations. To increase exports, the government is seeking access to foreign markets through trade negotiations and increased export promotion, including tax breaks for exporters.

Brazil has been a leading player in the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round negotiations and continues to seek to bring that effort to successful conclusion. To further increase its international profile (both economically and politically), the Rousseff administration is also seeking expanded trade ties with developing countries, as well as a strengthening of the Mercosul (Mercosur in Spanish) customs union with Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. In 2008, Mercosul concluded a free trade arrangement with Israel, followed by another arrangement with Egypt in 2010. Mercosul is pursuing free trade negotiations with Mexico and Canada and resumed trade negotiations with the EU. This trade bloc also plans to launch trilateral free trade negotiations with India and South Africa, building on partial trade liberalization agreements concluded with these countries in 2004. China has significantly increased its purchases of Brazilian soy, iron ore, and steel in recent years, becoming Brazil's principal export market and an important source of investment.

Agriculture is a major sector of the Brazilian economy, and is key for economic growth and foreign exchange. Agriculture accounts for about 6% of GDP (25% when including agribusiness) and 36% of Brazilian exports. Brazil enjoyed a positive agricultural trade balance of $55 billion in 2009. Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugarcane, coffee, tropical fruits, frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ), and has the world's largest commercial cattle herd (50% larger than that of the U.S.) at 170 million animals. Brazil is also an important producer of soybeans (second to the United States), corn, cotton, cocoa, tobacco, and forest products. The remainder of agricultural output is in the livestock sector, mainly the production of beef and poultry (second to the United States), pork, milk, and seafood.

Other Aspects
Brazil has one of the most advanced industrial sectors in Latin America. Accounting for roughly one-third of the GDP, Brazil's diverse industries include automobiles and parts, machinery and equipment, textiles, shoes, cement, computers, aircraft, and consumer durables. Brazil continues to be a major world supplier of commodities and natural resources, with significant operations in lumber, iron ore, tin, other minerals, and petrochemicals. Brazil has a diverse and sophisticated services industry as well, including developed telecommunications, banking, energy, commerce, and computing sectors. The financial sector is secure and provides local firms with a wide range of financial products, yet interest rates remain among the highest in the world. The largest financial firms are Brazilian (and the two largest banks are government-owned), but U.S. and other foreign firms have an important share of the market.

Government-initiated privatization after 1996 triggered a flood of investors in the telecom, energy, and transportation sectors. Privatization in the transportation sector has been particularly active over the last 20 years. Many antiquated and burdensome state management structures that operated in the sector were dismantled, though some still exist. The Brazilian railroad industry was privatized through concession contracts ranging from 30 to 60 years, and the ports sector is experiencing similar, albeit less expansive, privatization. In response to the dramatic deterioration in the national highway system, the federal government granted concessions for existing highways to private companies, which in turn promise to restore, maintain, and expand these highways in exchange for toll revenues generated. New opportunities are expected to arise with the opening of Brazilian civil airports to private management and investment through a federal concession model, but the initiative faces obstacles due to questions surrounding sovereignty and opposition from airport unions. The United States and Brazil signed an Air Services Liberalization Agreement in 2008 that increased commercial air travel between the two countries. In 2010, they initialed an air transportation agreement and an air transportation memorandum of understanding that, when they are signed and enter into force, will continue and expand this process.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $2.284 trillion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $2.518 trillion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $11,600 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 5.8%
industry: 26.9%
services: 67.3% (2011 est.)

Industries: textiles, shoes, chemicals, cement, lumber, iron ore, tin, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, other machinery and equipment

Exports:$200 billion f.o.b. (2008 est.) transport equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, coffee, autos

Imports: $176 billion f.o.b. (2008 est.) machinery, electrical and transport equipment, chemical products, oil, automotive parts, electronics

Currency: Reals (BRL)


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  • Website of the Government of Brazil
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, U. S. Central Intelligence Agency, World Wildlife Fund, & U.S. Department of State (2012). Brazil. eds. Peter Saundry & C. Michael Hogan. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and Environment. Washington DC. Retrieved from