Brazil posts lower than expected trade balance in February amid lower exports

BRASILIA, March 1 (Reuters) - Brazil's trade surplus for February fell a larger-than-expected 35% from the same month last year as exports, especially of oil, declined, government data released on Wednesday showed.

The trade surplus of $2.8 billion was lower than the $3.1 billion estimated by economists in a Reuters poll.

The Ministry of Development, Industry, Trade and Services said exports totaled $20.6 billion in February, down 7.7% from the previous year, mainly due to a 12.3% decrease in sales volume, while prices declined 0.8%.

The ministry highlighted a 67.9% drop in exported crude oil to $1.2 billion.

The government announced on Tuesday it would tax crude oil exports for four months to compensate for a tax exemption on fuels that it decided to partially maintain.

Questioned whether the drop in exports in February threatens government plans to boost revenue, the undersecretary of intelligence and foreign trade statistics, Herlon Brandao, called the decline a "one-off" occurrence, and said it is too early to draw any conclusions.

Brandao pointed to a high volume of oil sales in January that concentrated customs clearance, possibly leading to lower volumes declared in February. However, he expects March to show high volumes again, given the volatility of oil exports in statistical records.

Government data showed that Brazilian sales of coffee and beef also declined in February, down 44.3% and 27%, respectively.

Corn exports rose by 255.9% to $694 million, and Brandao attributed the rise to increased production and China's opening of its market to the product.

He stressed that corn is one of Brazil's main crops and is expected to see further growth ahead.

According to the ministry, imports fell 0.9% from February 2022 to $17.7 billion.

Reporting by Marcela Ayres; Editing by Richard Chang and Leslie Adler

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