(Corrects surplus in second graph to $19.681 bln dollars and not reais)
By Alonso Soto and Cesar Raizer
BRASILIA, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Brazil returned to a trade surplus in 2015 as the worst recession in 25 years and a slump in the real currency damped demand for imports in Latin America’s largest economy, data showed on Monday.
Brazil posted a trade surplus of $19.681 billion for last year, rebounding from a deficit of $4 billion in 2014, according to Trade Ministry figures.
A 33 percent depreciation of the real against the dollar helped to prevent export volumes from collapsing, despite dwindling commodities demand from top trade partner China. The deepening recession at home, meanwhile, curtailed import demand.
“It is good for the balance to return to positive territory, but the main reason by far is the drop in imports caused by the recession,” said Welber Barral, head of Brasilia-based economic and political consultancy Barral M Jorge.
Exports fell 14 percent to $191.134 billion in 2015 compared to the previous year, while imports sank a stunning 24 percent during the same period. Imports of key capital goods, like machinery and auto parts, dropped sharply in 2015.
Barral, a former international trade secretary, said sales abroad are likely to recover in 2016 as shrinking local demand forces industries to export their output. The weaker real is also expected to help exporters by reducing local costs.
Political turmoil and the country’s deepest recession since the 1990s sparked the real’s steep decline last year against the dollar, making it the world’s worst performing major currency.
It slid more than 2 percent on Monday after weak data from China suggested the world’s second-largest economy, surpassed only the by United States, continues to slow.
“The weaker real helps, but it’s not enough because currencies in other emerging countries are depreciating,” Barral said. “On the other hand, Brazilian industries will have to boost imports to make up for negative local demand.”
Brazil’s Trade Minister Armando Monteiro said on Dec. 22 that he expects a trade surplus of between $30 billion and $35 billion in 2016.
$1 = 4.0660 Brazilian reais Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Alan Crosby