BRASILIA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization has ruled that some Brazilian industrial stimulus programs hurt foreign competitors, a government official said on Friday, a major blow to a country struggling to shore up its industry amid a crippling recession.
The preliminary ruling, which has not been made public yet, backs the challenge by Japan and the European Union against industrial policies they say have hurt their producers, said the official who was briefed on the matter and asked for anonymity to speak freely.
Brazil’s foreign ministry said the government will analyze the initial WTO panel report before the organization makes a final decision, but did not reveal its content, stating the document was confidential.
The programs implemented in 2011 gave tax breaks and other benefits to companies that manufactured cars and communication technology goods in the country.
A ruling against Brazil will add pressure on the country to scale back industry subsidies at a time when it is struggling with its worst recession in memory.
A widening budget deficit has already forced Brazil to roll back some of those subsidies since 2015, but the government remains under pressure from business groups to keep some stimulus to avoid further job cuts in the industry sector.
“It is expected that this negative ruling will force Brazil to review important aspects of its industrial policies, with emphasis to the local content requirements and tax exemptions to domestically made products,” said Renata Amaral, a trade expert with Brasilia-based consultancy Barral M Jorge.
Earlier on Friday, Brazil moved to launch a WTO case to challenge U.S. tariffs on some Brazilian steel imports.
Brazil is also facing a probe into its sugar exports to China and weighing whether to drop its actions at the WTO against Thailand’s support for its sugar sector.
Reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Matthew Lewis