Brazil’s Chaotic Transportation Systems At Stake: The Role Of Private Sector – Analysis


By Arnaud Koehl

On July 27, a violent truck drivers’ strike occurred in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which eventually encompassed Brazil’s entire trucking industry. Among other issues, they were protesting the National Agency of Terrestrial Transports’ (ANTT) new highway safety regulations.[1]On the same day, the agency issued measures concerning a significant 2.87 percent price increase in highway tolls.[2]Both controversial decisions reflect not only a strained road infrastructure, but also an urgent need for profound structural improvement in the country’s highway system. The lack of coherence in the region’s trucking industry derives from deep-rooted inadequacies and a lack of government investment. Since 1980, Brazil has witnessed a steady decrease in its public transportation investment, now at only 0.7% of its 2010 GDP.[3]The dearth of appropriate planning and a complex regulatory environment have only amplified this problem.[4]

The operational failures of the Brazilian transportation system have had a detrimental effect on the country’s broader economy. Combined with other concerns including excessive taxes and bureaucracy, the obviously inadequate infrastructure is largely responsible for the colossal lack of competitiveness known as the “custo Brasil” (in English, the “Brazil cost”) that afflicts the country. Brazil’s freight haulage productivity especially suffers from the excessively complex logistics involved in disbursement. In 2007, transport costs represented a gargantuan 13 percent of Brazilian GDP, compared to the United States’ relatively efficient 7 percent.[5]Thus, it costs an average of $1,240 USD to export a container of freight while the same task requires only $990 USD in the United States. This particularly damages the pre-eminent agrifood sector’s performance, therefore multiplying both external and internal prices.[6]

In order to prepare for the inevitable oncoming transitions in Brazil, the whole transportation matrix of the country needs to be remodeled. The World Bank’s 2010 Logistic Performance Index describes Brazilian infrastructure as “still outdated and undeveloped,” and ranking it as the 41st country in the world. The exorbitant costs of the Brazilian transportation system are correlated with the burdens of the road sector, which comprises sixty percent of the country’s total freight volume, demonstrating a critical need for diversification through multimodality.

Fortunately, the current economic climate allows for a comprehensive investment plan which would reverse historical problems while bolstering its economy. The total overhaul of Brazilian infrastructure will combat the country’s developmental necessities, while seeking to wholly transform the country. Through the National Logistics and Transports Plan (PNLT) and the Program for the Acceleration of Growth (PAC), the government allotted more than $29 billion USD between 2007 and 2010 to transportation.[7]President Rousseff, previously nicknamed “the mother of PAC,” extended the program into the so-called “PAC 2,” thus adding to already numerous large-scale projects often challenged by Brazil’s large geographic size. This could potentially create jobs and stimulate growth. As the World Bank has noted, “any change in the transportation matrix will have a broad and complex impact on the Brazilian economy”.[8]

The shifting equilibrium between the private and public transportation sectors remains an important issue. Christopher Garman, director of Eurasia Group, depicted on July 10 the necessity for creating a new constructive framework, insinuating that only the private sector would be able to improve the PAC. According to Carlos Cavalcanti, head of the Infrastructure and Energy Department at the Industrial Federation of the State of São Paulo, the privatization would actually solve the “Bras infection,” an expression bemoaning the sprawling bureaucratic and rarely efficient public companies traditionally including “Bras” in their name. Besides the expected efficiency improvement, the World Bank concludes that the privatization process allows for a significant increase in finances. Therefore, Brasilia is shifting from primarily investment to increased regulation in order to control inappropriate and unwise private investments. However, public regulation has begun to suffer from deficiencies that have emerged from the ambiguity of the objectives and proliferations of specialized public agencies. Consequentially, a profound reorganization is crucial if the bureaucratic standards of the regulatory branch are to be made relevant.

Brazil recently implemented various public-private partnerships (PPPs) in its Logistical and Transports National Plan’s (PNLT) strategy through numerous auctions and concessions. Several projects demonstrate a massive transfer to the utilization of private companies, aimed at cost reduction as well as improving transportation’s efficiency. Operations such as the Federal Highways Concessions Program (PROCOFE) have already undergone such concessions.[9]Brasilia is focusing on transforming the Brazilian coast and its extremely congested seaports, and in particular, must address the complete renovation and expansion of the Rio de Janeiro port as well as the road that connects Santos and São Paulo.[10]

The primary embodiment of the plan can be seen at the country’s airports. Guarulhos (São Paulo), Viracopos (Campinas) and Brasília’s airports started the auction process in early 2012, deals involving hundreds of billions of dollars with multinational conglomerates and the state.[11]In order to bid, companies were required to meet rigid rules, but the bid still significantly surpassed expectations. Moreover, Infraero, the state-controlled company in charge of infrastructure operations, kept a 49 percent stake in each airport, providing another guarantee that the adoption reflected a stable consensus between private and public management. Combined with the auctions’ economic aspects, they consolidate Brasilia’s choice to expand concessions of infrastructure, notably to the Rio de Janeiro Galeão International Airport, already targeted by foreign companies including Aéroports de Paris.[12]Currently, this orientation rewards the political courage of President Rousseff and her war against congestion, especially considering the projected enormous increase in traffic and national preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. A member of the ruling leftist Worker’s Party (PT), her pragmatic approach allows the aviation sector to utilize international expertise while implementing the large scale expansion and designing reforms estimated to cost about $1.98 billion USD, for the five principal airports.[13]However, the massive lack of developmental policies implemented during the two previous decades has resulted in a strained collection of colliding problems and misconceived mega plans that have some upset. When it comes to significant progress in the sector, Brazilian air infrastructures will continue suffering from an inadequate structure.

In order to effectively address congested airways, the emblematic high-speed train project TAV (High Speed Train) has also become an irresistibly attractive alternative between Rio de Janeiro, Campinas and São Paulo. The government auction granting control authorization to issue the contract attracted eight international conglomerates including Siemens, Alstom, and China Railway Materials. Due to geographical challenges, this project involves technologically and economically ambitious engineering and construction, thus Brazil cannot neglect the assistance of foreign companies. Still, the recent meeting between President Rousseff and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demonstrated that the decision could follow a geopolitical approach over a mere qualitative one by selecting an emergent country ally.[14]The TAV project and its construction bill cause pessimistic forecasts concerning its long-term viability. Indeed, consequent usage costs represent a main concern given the economic challenge of prohibitively high fares.

Due to the economic risks, questions also remain about the relevance of the TAV project. Initially planned to be completed in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the project has been delayed to the point that its inauguration date is unknown.[15]Its predicted high cost tickets will increase and normalize social differences by excluding much of the working class from the most efficient mode of transportation. According to the National Terrestrial Transportation Agency (ANTT) forecasts, this will be mitigated through a much more efficient transportation system.

Even if the southeastern region desperately needs improvement of its communication’s matrix, Brazil’s efforts will lead to grossly unequal levels of infrastructure throughout this territory. Thus, the TAV will increase regional discretional eclecticism, mainly regarding the under-developed Northeast, by conferring a high-performing transportation service for the wealthiest part of Brazil. Further, the World Bank pinpoints inter-regional concerns because “national transportation networks shape the patterns of competition and cooperation between various regions, and growth in one may come at the expense of another.”[16] Undoubtedly, a country must first invest in its main axis in order to develop and permit a broader use of new technologies in connected parts of the system.

As the private sector becomes increasingly engaged in the transportation sector, it ushers in an opportunity to improve Brazil’s bureaucratic inefficiency. Provided that the grand design does not stand privatizations but concessions, the government will have smartly positioned itself and will have gained popular political support. The stimulus package pledged by Rousseff on August 15 is meant to contribute $66 billion USD over 30 years to the railway and road sectors. The government’s understanding of the transportation sector’s essential role in to boosting the Brazilian economy will allow it to undertake a boom in construction while facing an unprecedented slowdown.[17]Nevertheless, this tsunami of privatizations will encounter a strong opposition in Rousseff’s own complex political coalition, where various senior leaders fear an abandonment of public prerogatives for sources of capital and which will emphasize the necessity to strengthen the entire nation instead of focusing only on economic growth.

Arnaud Koehl, Research Associate at Council on Hemispheric Affairs

[1]“Caminhoneiros protestam com violência no RS”, O Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, July 27, 2012.,caminhoneiros-protestam-com-violencia-no-rs,121013,0.htm and “Protesto de caminhoneiros interdita faixas de rodovias de 6 Estados”, Folha de São Paulo. São Paulo, July 31, 2012.

[2] “ANTT reajusta tarifa de transporte rodoviário”, O Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, July 27, 2012.,antt-reajusta-tarifa-de-transporte-rodoviario,120917,0.htm

[3] According to Carlos Cavalcanti of the Industrial Federation of the State of São Paulo (FIESP).

[4] “Brazil, evaluating the Macroeconomic and Distributional Impacts of Lowering Transportation Costs.” World Bank, July 7, 2008.

[5] “Land of promise”, The Economist. London, April 12, 2007.

[6] Freitas, Clarisse. “Parte do lucro se perde no caminho até o consumidor”, Jornal do Comércio, Porto Alegre. June 16th, 2011.

[7] Miranda, Ângelo Tiago de. “Avanços na área social e urbana”, UOL Educação. São Paulo.—programa-de-aceleracao-do-crescimento-avancos-na-area-social-e-urbana.jhtm

[8] “Brazil; evaluating the Macroeconomic and Distributional Impacts of Lowering Transportation Costs”, World Bank. Washington DC, July 7, 2008.

[9] “Concessões Rodoviarias”, list of road concessions. National Agency of Terrestrial Transports (ANTT). Brasilia.

[10] “Ações do PAC na área de Portos e Hidrovias implementadas pelo DNIT estão aceleradas”, National Department of Infrastructure and Transports (DNIT). Brasilia, August 6, 2012.

[11] Tavares, Eduardo. “Veja quais são os consórcios vencedores do leilão dos aeroportos”, Exame. São Paulo, February 6th, 2012.

[12] Chade, Jamil. “Franceses da ADP farão oferta pelo aeroporto do Galeão no Rio”, O Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, June 7, 2012.

[13] “Edital de concessão de aeroportos sai no início de maio” Globo. Rio de Janeiro, April 26, 2011.,,EMI228651-16418,00-EDITAL+DE+CONCESSAO+DE+AEROPORTOS+SAI+NO+INICIO+DE+MAIO.html

[14] Luna, Denise. “Brasil e Turquia negociam parceria para o trem-bala”, Folha de São Paulo. Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 2012.

[15] Mendes, Marco. “Vale a pena construir o Trem Bala?”, article linked to the Braudel Institute. April 13, 2011. And Mendes, Marco. “Trem de Alta Velocidade: Novas informações para debater o projeto”. Centro de estudos da consultoria do Senado. Brasilia, January 2011. . And Mautone, Silviana. “Leilão do trem de alta velocidade deve ser só em 2013”. O Estado de São Paulo. São Paulo, June 28, 2012.,leilao-do-trem-de-alta-velocidade-deve-ser-so-em-2013,117650,0.htm.

[16] “Brazil, evaluating the macroeconomic and distributional impacts of lowering transportation costs”. Report No. 40020-BR, World Bank, Washington, July 7, 2008.

[17] Cruz, Valdo and Amora, Dimmi. “Plano de R$ 133 bilhões mostra o estilo Dilma de privatização”. Folha de São Paulo. Brasilia, August 16, 2012.


COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

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