Brazil’s Iron and Steel Legacy
The immigrants who arrived in Brazil around the year 1500 were quite interested in discovering natural treasures that could mean fame and fortune. Gold, for example, was found in good quantities as well as other treasures like diamonds, rubies, sapphires, silver, etc.
Miners came in large numbers and expanded the Brazilian territory in the search for new mines as old mines decreased production. They ended up finding other minerals that at first did not interest them so much. The Brazilian subsoil hid many treasures; mineral resources that are being discovered even today.
Iron ore is one example. Although it was not so sought back then, even at the beginning of colonization reports started to appear of the existence of iron ore in the new country. Iron would only become important for local production after the independence of Brazil, mainly because of the depletion of the precious-minerals mines. In the late 19th century, the existence of large iron-ore deposits in Minas Gerais of southeastern Brazil became public. No wonder that the state takes this name, which in English means general mines.
These fields became interesting worldwide at the beginning of the 20th century. Foreign investments were made in railways and ports, which facilitated the increase in iron-ore production. Companies appeared that have become major suppliers of the world market (e.g., Vale) over time. Earlier known as Vale do Rio Doce, the company began operations in 1942 having open pit mines with high-quality iron ore located in Minas Gerais. In 1967, a geologist discovered almost by chance the existence of a huge reserve of high-grade iron ore situated in northern Brazil. With this mine, Vale is one of the world’s largest iron-ore producers, which allows Brazil to export about 330 million tons per year.
This should mean excellent conditions for steel manufacturing in Brazil. And indeed the steel industry emerged and developed rapidly in parallel with the findings of raw-material deposits. First, small iron-steel production emerged in the 19th century. In the mid-1930s, the first charcoal-based integrated steel mill in Latin America was also founded in Minas Gerais. The installation phase ended in 1940 and, along with others that came later, it is part of the ArcelorMittal group in Brazil.
The beginning of the automobile industry made necessary the production of plates, resulting in the first Brazilian integrated steel project –
Companhia Siderurgica Nacional (CSN). The plant began to operate in 1946, was privatized at the end of last century and is today one of the largest in operation in the country. Other plants have emerged, and Gerdau Group, now the largest steel producer in Brazil, began its vigorous rise in Brazilian and global markets.
The world’s steel oversupply slowed the growth of corporations and caused a rearrangement of operations in Brazil and abroad. The Brazilian economy is at a standstill, caused by business and consumer lack of confidence. In the not-too-distant future, we will know which way the economic activity will go once the current economic inertia is overcome.
ABM, the Brazilian Association of Metallurgy, Materials and Mining, was born in the 1940s, along with the country’s industrialization process. ABM held ABM Week in August, which is the biggest mining and metallurgical event of Latin America. At his final speech, the president of the Executive Board of ABM, Horacídio Leal Barbosa Filho, referring to the economic crisis, suggested that all should roll up their sleeves in search of information, ideas and innovations.
“The moment requires us to put into practice new solutions quickly and hard work, clear purpose, focus and expertise,” Filho said. “ABM can help a lot in this crisis since it has reach, experience and credibility to bring together the skills that you need to form specific partnerships.”