By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, May 18 (Reuters) - Brazil recorded a $19.7 billion maritime trade surplus in the first four months of the year as imports by value fell as the real currency weakened and exports of agriculture goods remained strong, a port operators group said on Monday.
The surplus is 14.56% wider than in the same period of 2019 despite the crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, which has disrupted transport systems worldwide, said ATP, which represents Brazilian private-sector terminal operators including miner Vale and grain merchant Bunge.
The widened surplus reflects the fact that Brazilian ports have operated regularly amid the pandemic, ATP said in a statement. The result comes amid a 30% drop in maritime freight prices following the global oil rout, ATP President Murillo Barbosa said in a separate statement.
Brazil's growing maritime trade surplus underscores the strength of the country's farm sector, which exported higher amounts of goods like soybeans in March and April driven by strong Chinese demand.
Brazil shipped some 36 million tonnes of the oilseeds through April, according to data from maritime agency Cargonave on Brazil's top export commodity. This corresponds to half of the volume of soy the country sold in the whole of 2019, Cargonave data show.
ATP said the maritime trade balance calculation involves only cargo moved by sea, largely mineral and agriculture commodities.
By value, Brazilian maritime imports dropped by almost 7% from January to April, compared to the same period a year ago, while maritime exports were virtually stable at $56.75 billion, ATP said, based on government data.
By volume, Brazil's maritime exports were also relatively stable at 195.6 million tonnes while imports increased 1.09% in the first four months of 2020, ATP said, also using official trade data.
The rise in imported volumes was mainly driven by a rise in fertilizer purchases as fertilizer prices drop, according a proprietary ATP analysis. (Reporting by Ana Mano Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)