(Adds source comments, pension details and context)
By Alonso Soto
BRASILIA, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Brazil will not scrap an exemption from taxes on agricultural commodity exports in the world’s largest sugar, coffee and soybean exporter as part of its social welfare reform, a senior member of the economic team told Reuters on Tuesday.
Eliminating the exemption, which cost the government 5.3 billion reais ($1.67 billion) in lost revenue last year, was weighed as an option to reduce the widening pension deficit in a reform the government plans to present to Congress in coming weeks.
“Our focus with the reform is on expenditures and not on revenues,” said the official who asked not to be named so as to speak freely. “That issue is off the table.”
The official said there is a near consensus within the government on setting a minimum age of retirement of 65 years.
Brazil is one of only a handful of countries in the world that does not have a minimum retirement age. Pension payments depend on a formula that combines the age and the number of years worked.
The government is also confident that Congress will approve without any changes its landmark constitutional amendment to cap growth in public spending for 20 years, said the official.
Comments by President Michel Temer that the cap could be eased in around six years if revenues bounce back had fueled speculation of changes to the proposal, which received initial approval in a first-round vote by the lower house last week.
The reform to cut benefits of one of the world’s most generous pension systems is key for the cap to work and to avoid a full-blown fiscal crisis in coming years, experts say. ($1 = 3.1795 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)