2. Recent performance of the mining sector in Brazil

Mining has been an important part of the Brazilian economy since colonial times, when the Portuguese settled in the gold-rich region that later would become the state of Minas Gerais. Global geostrategic considerations during the two world wars and critical policy choices in the 1950s shaped Brazil’s growth experience based on the export of raw materials (such as minerals) for the rest of the century (Bacha and Bonelli, 2004[1]).

Like many other governments in Latin America, Brazil deployed import-substitution industrialisation policies in the 1970s and the 1980s and aimed at promoting national industries and at reducing the dependency on imports. Brazil developed its mining industry through an active engagement of the State in pursuing a strong entrepreneurial role for itself in the productive sectors of the economy (Triner, 2011[2]). In this context, the recent history of mineral development in Brazil, after the approval of the Mining Code of 1967, has been influenced by several modifications to the legal framework regulating the industry which have modified the State’s involvement in the exploitation of Brazil’s mineral assets (OECD, 2017[3]).

On a global scale, Brazil is an important player in the international mining industry. For instance, it is positioned as the world’s second largest producer of iron ore (USGS, 2020[4]) and the world’s leading producer of niobium. The activities related to these minerals contribute significantly to the overall revenues of mineral exports.1 The variety and geographical spread of mining activities in Brazil is shown in Figure 2.1. The two largest mining areas in the country are in Carajás (Pará) and the Iron Quadrangle (Minas Gerais).

Mining is of major importance to the Brazilian economy, contributing to the Brazilian GDP with an estimated gross value of USD 43.7 billion of mineral production for 2020. Furthermore, mineral extraction activities accounted for about 2.4% of the country’s GDP in 2019 (ANM, 2021[5]).

This subsection explains the potential of the mineral sector of Brazil. It analyses the aggregate geological information of the country, considering the land area granted for mining activities and the availability of reserves of key metals by economic value: iron ore, copper, and gold. The analysis considers the areas open to mining activities and the description of the volumes of mineral reserves of its key metals by economic value. It also compares the mineral reserves information of Brazil with four selected OECD countries with important mining sectors: Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Canada.

Brazil has a vast territory. With around 8.5 million square kilometres, Brazil is the largest country in Latin America and the fifth largest country in the world, accounting for 5.6% of the world landmass. The Brazilian Federation is composed of the union of 26 states and the Federal District. Mining activities in the country are located mainly in the states of Minas Gerais, Pará, Bahia and Goiás. Nonetheless, other states such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Mato Grosso also have relevant mining industries (Furtado and Urias, 2013[6]). The Mining Code (Decree Law No. 227/1967) sets the foundations for the regulatory framework that underpins the industry. It establishes five regimes for mining tenure: authorisation regime, the concession regime, the licensing regime, the artisanal mining permit regime, and the monopolisation regime. Additional to the five regimes, the extraction register is another form of tenure considered under the Mining Code (see Box 2.1 for a summary of the main characteristics of each regime).

The total area granted for mining exploration in Brazil has decreased in the last ten years. The amount of hectares allocated to this mining regime peaked in 2011, in line with the height in commodities pricies, particularly of iron ore (Figure 2.2). Contrary to the growth dynamics of the granting of exploration permits, the number of mining concessions requests have increased in the last ten years. In addition, the land area granted for mineral extraction through mining concessions has also been expanding in recent times. In 2020, mining concessions represent approximately 0.8% of Brazil’s territory. Several mining companies around the world looked for sustaining their production by investing in expanding their existing operations during the contraction phase of mineral commodity prices after 2014 (Mckinsey, 2016[7]). This may explain the expansion of land area for extraction activities in Brazil. Finally, the area compromised for other types of mining titles (i.e., licences and the extraction register) is exceedingly small.

One significant feature in the governance of the mining sector in Brazil is the presence of artisanal mining. This small-scale mining activity is an emerging sub sector in Brazil in the sense that the amount of land area devoted to this kind of operation has been increasing in the last decade. Indeed, artisanal mining (constituted by garimpeiros or mining cooperatives) have increased their presence over the years, especially in recent times. Thus, the number of artisanal mining cooperatives or garimpeiros has more than doubled between 2010 and 2020, going from 871 to 1 890 according to ANM. This increase in the number of relevant parties has its counterpart in the land area dedicated to this type of activity. As shown in Figure 2.3, in a period of only 10 years the number of hectares dedicated to artisanal mining has increased more than fivefold, from 145 932 hectares in 2010 to 734 065 hectares in 2020.

The first panel on Figure 2.4 shows the distribution of land area granted for different mining activities in 2020, for selected states. Mato Grosso, Pará, Bahia and Minas Gerais are the states that concentrate the majority of the territory devoted to exploration activities and account for 62% of the total area allocated to this phase. These states are the most interesting exploration places in terms of geological potential given their history of discovery successes and their long tradition of mineral extraction. Mato Grosso stands out for its richness of deposits containing gold. Pará has resources of iron ore (in the region of Carajás), manganese, copper, and aluminum. Bahía contains deposits of iron ore, gold, and construction minerals. Minas Gerais have large deposits of iron ore and manganese in the “Iron Quadrangle”, and rare earths (ANM, 2019[9]).

Minas Gerais and Pará concentrate the largest extensions of area devoted to mining concessions (almost 29% of total assigned area for mineral extraction in Brazil). These states contain some of the most important mining operations in Brazil, especially the ones dedicated to iron ore extraction (ANM, 2019[9]). In fact, the largest iron mine in the world is located in Pará, the Ferro Carajás Project. Mining production in these states is vast and they are responsible for 64% of Brazilian mining exports: Minas Gerais accounts for 43% and Pará accounts for 21% (Moraal, 2018[10]). The second panel on Figure 2.4 shows the most relevant states in terms of territory allocated to mining concessions.

The third panel on Figure 2.4 focuses on the licensing scheme, where Minas Gerais, Goiás, São Paulo, and Matto Grosso have the highest concentration of licensed area with 40% of the total. Finally, Mato Grosso, Pará, and Rondônia exhibit the largest land area granted for artisanal mining activities with 92% of the total area devoted to artisanal mineral extraction (fourth panel on Figure 2.4). The main minerals extracted by garimpeiros are gold, precious stones, and construction materials.

Brazil has a large geological potential, as well as a high level of mineral reserves and production (Khindanova, 2011[11]). Indeed, Brazil occupies the first places in the production of some minerals such as manganese, niobium, or tantalite (Korinek and Ramdoo, 2017[12]). The Brazilian mining sector produces three important mineral commodities by economic value: iron ore, copper, and gold. The analysis of the geological and production information will focus on these commodities. Table 2.2 shows the information on the reserves of these three commodities that are available in Brazil. In addition, data from four OECD countries with important mining industries (Australia, Chile, Mexico, and Canada) are included for comparison purposes.

Brazil ranks especially high in iron ore mineral reserves compared to other OECD countries. After Australia, Brazil is the second country with the largest iron reserves in the world. Australia registers reserves amounting to 48 000 thousand metric tons, which represents 28% of world reserves. Brazil, for its part, has over 33 000 thousand metric tons of iron ore, 19.6% of the world's total reserves. Canadian iron reserves reach a value of 6 000 thousand metric tons, approximately 4% of the total reserves in the world. In the case of gold, Australia is the country with the largest proven reserves in the world (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, 2020[13]). The country has an estimated of 10 000 metric tons, equivalent to 20% of the total gold available in the world. In contrast, Brazilian gold reserves represent 3.4% of total world reserves, with 1,700 metric tons of gold reserves.

Finally, regarding the case of copper, globally, the country with the largest reserves is Chile. This country has available 200 thousand metric tons of copper reserves, a figure that represents 23% of the world's total. Australia is the second country with the largest reserves: 87 thousand metric tons (10% of the global total reserves). Mexico, which has 53 thousand tons of cooper, is the third country with the largest reserves in the table and the fourth in the world ranking. Canada has 8.9 million tons of copper as reserves. Finally, Brazil has 9,664 metric tons of copper reserves. Its share does only reach 2% of the world’s total reserves of copper.

Brazil has a strong geological potential given its considerable land area and the large quantities of mineral reserves of key metals such as iron ore, copper and gold compared to other OECD countries with relevant mining industries.

Brazil produces a wide range of mineral substances. Brazil is the largest producer of niobium worldwide, the second largest producer of iron ore and manganese, and it is among the top producers of bauxite and tin (KPMG, 2015[16]), (MDNP, 2020[17]). In 2019, metallic minerals accounted for 80% of the total value of metallic and non-metallic mineral production (ANM, 2020[18]). In 2019, Brazil had active exploration or exploitation titles for 37 metallic minerals (ANM, 2020[18]). In terms of non-metallic substances, one of the most important is vermiculite, for which it accounts for roughly 20% of world production (ANM, 2020[18]).

Figure 2.5 summarises the information of the production value of mining extraction. The total value decreased from 2011 to 2016 due to the end the of the last commodity boom, which contracted metal prices to historic lows. Another reason that contributed to the secular reduction of mineral production value was the contraction of the rate of extraction of certain minerals such as iron ore and gold due to the depletion of the deposits and the effect of the suspension of some iron ore operations after the disaster of Mariana in 2015. The mineral production value recovered its pace after the rise of commodity prices in 2017. In 2019, production value was of USD 36.4 billion.

As mentioned above, metallic mining is the most relevant mineral activity in Brazil. About 80% of the value of mining production corresponds to metallic substances (ANM, 2020[18]). Figure 2.6 shows the contribution of each mineral to the value of mining production in 2020. As can be seen, iron is by far the most important mineral in the sector (68%). The second and third most important metals are gold and copper, respectively. However, the contribution of each of these products is fairly small compared to that of iron. Specifically, in 2020 gold accounted for 11% of the production value and copper for 7%. The rest of mining products have a participation of less than 5% in the value of the sector's production.

The previous subsection showed that the three most important mineral commodities by economic value in the Brazil are iron ore, gold and copper. Table 2.3 compares the Brazilian production of these products with respect to other OECD economies with relevant mining sectors. It also exhibits their share in world production. In the case of iron ore, the most important mining product of Brazil, of the five countries analysed, Australia is the one with the highest production: 562 million tons. In fact, Australia is the world’s largest iron ore producer with a 37% share in world production in 2018. Australia is also the largest iron ore exporter in the world (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, 2019[19]). Brazil is the second largest producer of iron ore in the world, with a 19% share in global production. Canada, Chile and Mexico, although they produce iron ore, do not have a significant participation in total world’s production of this commodity.

In the case of gold, Australia is once again the leader in production among the five countries studied, with 315 100 kilograms produced in 2018, equivalent to 10% of the world production of that year. Although in 2019 it was not the top gold producer in the world, projections foresee that by 2021 Australia will surpass China as the largest gold producing country worldwide (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, 2019[19]). On the other hand, Canada and Mexico produced 183 047 (6%) and 117 323 (4%) kilograms in 2018, respectively. Brazil, which ranks fourth in this table, for that year reached a production of 80 000 kilograms, which is equivalent to 2% of world production. Finally, Chile is the OECD country in the region with the lowest gold production, only 37 066 kilograms, which only represents 1% of world production.

Chile is the world’s largest copper producer. In 2018, the Chilean production of mine copper exceeded 5 million metric tons, a figure that represents 29% of the world total supply for that year. The second OECD country with the highest production of this metal was Australia, with a production of 960 thousand metric tons. Although this represents 5% of world production, over the last few years Australia has been among the ten most important countries in the production of this mineral. Canada and Mexico registered productions of 542 and 751 thousand tons, equivalent to 3% and 4% respectively of the world’s share. The copper mine production in Brazil in 2018 was 348 thousand metric tons, approximately 2% of world’s production.

This section will analyse the recent performance of Brazil regarding different economic indicators related to its mining sector. It will also provide a comparison of economic performance of the mineral sector with respect to the general economic performance of Brazil, and with respect to the mineral industries of selected OECD member countries.

Mining plays an important role in the Brazilian economy. During the last decade, the contribution of this sector to the national economy has fluctuated between 2% and 4% (ANM, 2020[20]), (Gallegos and Vásquez Cordano, 2020[21]). The main activities of the mining industry –due to its contribution to national production– are the extraction of iron ore, the manufacture of metal-derived products and the manufacture of non-metallic products. In 2017, only these three activities together accounted for 1.61% of the Brazilian GDP. Figure 2.7 shows the evolution of the contribution of mining activities to the Brazilian GDP from 2011 to 2017. Mining GDP has been declining during the last decade achieving a contribution value of approximately 2.4% in 2017.

Figure 2.8 summarises the contribution of mining to the national GDP of Brazil and four OECD countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, and Mexico. In the Brazilian case, between 2013 and 2017, the mining GDP as a percentage of the national GDP decreased by more than 1%, from 3.57% to 2.4%. Furthermore, during this period, on average, the sector's contribution to the national economy was lower in Brazil than in Canada and Mexico. Although in Australia and Chile the importance of the sector is notably higher, the gap with respect to Brazil has been decreasing over the last few years.

In addition to its contribution to the domestic economy, in Brazil mining is also a key industry for the foreign sector. As Figure 2.9 shows, throughout the last decade the mining trade balance has been in surplus. The drop in exports between 2011 and 2016, as well as in the value of production, would be explained by the decline in mineral commodity prices as a result of the end of the last commodity super cycle (Erdem and Ünalmış, 2016[23]), (Vásquez Cordano and Zellou, 2020[24]). Therefore, as of 2017, a continuous recovery in the FOB2 value of Brazilian mineral exports is also observed. Thus, for 2019 the value of the sector's net trade balance was USD 21 772 million.

The proportion of the national GDP that exports and imports represent reflects the relevance of the mining industry for the foreign sector (Figure 2.10). The last decade began with exports equivalent to 1.43% of the gross domestic product. In correspondence with the decrease in the value of exports between 2011 and 2016 (shown in Figure 2.9), during this period exports as a percentage of GDP also fell to 0.92%. As of 2017, the year in which commodity prices begin to recover, the value of exports has increased continuously. In 2019, mining exports were equivalent to 1.44% of GDP. On the other hand, in terms of imports, throughout the decade these have been on average 0.2% of GDP.

Figure 2.11 shows mining exports as a percentage of merchandise exports3 for the period 2000-2019 for Brazil and the four OECD countries selected for the benchmarking. In this period, Brazilian exports of minerals and metals represented between 9.8% and 13% of the total merchandise exports. Thus, in Brazil, mining has less weight in the foreign sector compared to Australia and Chile, countries in which the value of mining exports reached 34% and 53% of the value of total merchandise exports in 2019. Compared with Canada and Mexico, on the contrary, Brazil has a more presence of its mining sector in the trade balance. In Mexico, mineral and metal exports have only represented around 2% of merchandise exports; in Canada, mining exports have only represented between 4% and 7% in the last years. This means that Canada and Mexico have a more diversified portfolio of exports than Brazil, Chile, and Australia.

Another indicator to measure the performance of the mining sector in the trade balance is mining exports as a percentage of total exports. Figure 2.12 summarises the evolution of this indicator during the years 2013 and 2017 for Brazil and the four OECD countries considered in this analysis. For Brazil, mining exports as a percentage of the country's total exports decreased, going from 16.9% in 2013 to 12.8% in 2017. On the other hand, in comparative terms, as shown in Figure 2.11, this indicator places Brazil above Canada and Mexico, but below Australia and Chile. Indeed, the value of Brazilian mining exports (as a percentage of total exports) is almost double that of Canadian exports and three times that of Mexico, while it is almost half and a third of Australian and Chilean exports, respectively.

Although mining is an industry characterised by being capital intensive, it is still an important source of employment in Brazil. Figure 2.13 shows the evolution of the number of companies by type of permit in the last 10 years. Companies with exploration permits are the most abundant, although their number has decreased over time, from 66 324 in 2010 to 26,515 in 2019. The second most abundant type of mining company is the one that contains the mining concession application records. Unlike companies with exploration permits, these have been growing in number, going from 11 645 in 2010 to 21 203 in 2019. On the other hand, the least representative in absolute numbers are those holders of an extraction record and those that have a permit for artisanal mining. Both have also increased their presence in the last decade. Thus, public bodies with an extraction record have gone from 681 to 1 671, while artisanal mining cooperatives went from 871 to 1 890.

In keeping with the country's high mining potential and the high number of existing mining companies, during this decade mining has generated more than one million jobs each year. Figure 2.14 summarises the information on the labor force employed both in the extractive subsector and in the transformation subsector of the industry.

The overall number of workers has decreased slightly since 2014. The transformation subsector is the one with the highest employability, since around 85% of mining workers belong to the said subsector. However, the transformation subsector is also the one with the greatest contraction: between 2010 and 2019, employment in this sector contracted by 19%, while employment in the extraction subsector contracted by only 9%. Finally, the contribution of the mining sector to national employment during the last decade has been 2.74%.


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[8] ANM (2021), Cadastro Mineiro, Portal Brasileiro de Dados Abertos, https://dados.gov.br/dataset/sistema-de-cadastro-mineiro (accessed on 16 July 2021).

[20] ANM (2020), Anuário Mineral Brasileiro, Agência Nacional de Mineração. Relatório Anual de Lavra - RAL.

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← 1. See http://investinbrazil.biz/industry/metallurgy/brazil-mining-industry (accessed 27 December 2020).

← 2. FOB stands for “free on board, named port of loading”. It is an incoterm – an international trade clause – used for sales and purchase transactions where the goods (in this case, mining products) are transported by ship, either by sea or inland waterway. It should always be used followed by the name of a port of loading. FOB is one of the most commonly used incoterms.

← 3. Merchandise exports are constituted by all goods which subtract from the stock of material resources of a country by leaving (exports) its economic territory. See for further details: United Nations. International Merchandise Trade Statistics. Concepts and Definitions. Series F, No. 52, Rev. 2 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.98.XVII.16), (paragraph 14).

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