(Adds official comments and data details)
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 exports 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 with the previous year, while imports sank a massive 24 percent during the same period. Imports of key capital goods, like machinery and auto parts, dropped sharply in 2015.
While export volumes increased in 2015, the drop in prices of key Brazilian exports such as soy, oil and iron ore dragged down the total value of sales abroad.
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 a steep decline in the real 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 currency “is the main reason why we believe exports will increase in 2016,” Daniel Godinho, foreign trade secretary, told reporters. “We already see signs of the positive impact that the currency is having on exports in sectors such as textiles and cars.”
Godinho reiterated that the government expects a trade surplus of $35 billion in 2016.
He added that the Mercosur trade bloc, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela, expects to exchange product offers with the European Union in the first quarter and possibly ink a trade deal during the year.
$1 = 4.0660 Brazilian reais Writing by Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Alan Crosby and Dan Grebler