Brazil has one of the world's largest economies, with well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors. Vast disparities remain, however, in the country's distribution of land and wealth. Roughly one fifth of the workforce is involved in agriculture. The major commercial crops are coffee (Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter), citrus fruit (especially juice oranges, of which Brazil also is the world's largest producer), soybeans, wheat, rice, corn, sugarcane, cocoa, cotton, tobacco, and bananas. Cattle, pigs, and sheep are the most numerous livestock, and Brazil is a major beef and poultry exporter. Timber is also important, although much is illegally harvested.
Brazil has vast mineral wealth, including iron ore (it is the world's largest producer), tin, quartz, chrome ore, manganese, industrial diamonds, gem stones, gold, nickel, bauxite, uranium, and platinum. Offshore petroleum and natural gas deposits discovered in the early 21st cent. could also make the nation a significant oil and gas producer, but development has been slow and below expectations. There is extensive food processing, and the leading manufacturing industries produce textiles, shoes, chemicals, steel, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, and machinery. Most of Brazil's electricity comes from water power, and it possesses extensive untapped hydroelectric potential, particularly in the Amazon basin.
In addition to coffee, Brazil's exports include transportation equipment, iron ore, soybeans, footwear, motor vehicles, concentrated orange juice, beef, and tropical hardwoods. Machinery, electrical and transportation equipment, chemical products, oil, and electronics are major imports. Most trade is with China, the United States, Argentina, and Germany. Brazil is a member of Mercosur.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.