The growing process of economic globalization places the discussion about the importance of internationalization of Brazilian companies as a crucial option for corporate strategies to develop competition and national performance.
The internationalization of companies plays an important role, especially for emerging economies that formulate policies on sustainable economic growth. In theory, this process of internationalization involves two main instances: (i) serving of the foreign market through exports, and (ii) direct investments abroad, by the establishment of commercial and/or agency representations before implementing production plants.
Although the majority of transnational companies worldwide were originated in Europe, the United States and Japan, a significant change has been observed in the past three decades. In fact, there has been a significant increase in the number of companies from developing economies in the list of exporters of capital.
Experiences adopted in other countries such as (a) the Asian Tigers, the internationalization took place through a partnership between government authorities and the private sector. With small domestic markets, from the beginning, these countries bet on strategies benefitting exports. The most significant Asian model was the Japanese Zaibatsu, large industrial conglomerates. This model was imitated in South Korea, in the form of Chaebol, but Taiwan focused on the development of another type of company, of smaller sizes. In both countries, the state has encouraged the "National Champions" through incentives. On the other side, we have (b) China, the experience of the Asian Tigers served as a model for China. At first, attracting foreign investments into special economic zones and stimulating the Chinese private sector. Exports were stimulated since the beginning, but in 2002, the Chinese Government launched the "Go Global policy" with measures to promote the internationalization of companies in the country through specific actions such as (i) simplification of bureaucratic procedures, (ii) development of guides for investors (iii) conduction of business intelligence activities; (iv) execution of international agreements for promotion and protection of investments; and (v) creation of the Chinese sovereign fund to assist in the internationalization of Chinese companies. The third example is (c) India. In this country, the internationalization resulted from an initiative of the private sector, which found an important market niche in the information technology area through the rendering of IT services (data processing, telemarketing, call centers) to companies in the U.S. and Europe. India adopted the most liberal investment systems abroad as an important factor to promote the internationalization since the new rules have eliminated some of the earlier barriers.
Nowadays, many are the theories and arguments used to either defend or criticize this phenomenon. The Government role in this process is the main issue of discussion, as well as the definition of the degree of Government intervention in the economy. Basically, there are two models to be followed: (A) the Inducer Government model of internationalization, which requires an active Government Intervention towards the process of foreign investment expansion. This model is usually associated with the selection of strategic sectors and direct Government actions through instruments such as financing, tax incentives and equity participation in companies; and (B) the second model is the Facilitator Government, characterized by the elimination of barriers against internationalization of national companies. This model is guided by the creation of a regulatory environment favorable to the internationalization through reduction in, and simplification or elimination of, administrative barriers and exchange rates.
It is well known that this process is not linear and faces many obstacles. The most common problems and obstacles are: (i) lack of an international experience and management skills; (ii) lack of information on investment opportunities and conditions in the country receiving the direct investment abroad (including unfamiliarity with the legal system and regulations of the country of destination); (iii) currency, political and economic instability of some countries; (iv) limited access to financing; (v) cultural differences; (vi) high-tax environment; (vii) lack of incentives and government support programs minimizing the costs of operating abroad; and (viii) technical issues preventing the execution of double tax avoidance agreements.
Research indicates that human resources management is also a major concern for companies deciding to leave their countries. Expatriating executives from the headquarters is a common practice among companies; however, lack of organization in this process can produce negative impacts. It is essential that professionals have the ability to live and accept ideas, cultures, values and ways of working in a new market that are different from those with which they are familiar.
In Brazil, the internationalization of companies happened with almost a century of delay in relation to the European and American companies, which started their process after the First World War. However, this process has been strongly growing over the past decade mainly due to favorable economic national and international scenarios, but most of all to the (i) appreciation of the local currency, the Real, and (ii) the support of BNDES (the Brazilian Development Bank).
Government discussion about the need of implementation of public policies encouraging Brazilian companies to operate abroad started in the end of the second term of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. In 2002, BNDES changed its By-Laws to allow the financing of projects on direct investments abroad. The first operation was approved only in 2005. It was the first financing transaction in the framework of such political line of internationalization of Brazilian companies.
The Brazilian Government also created a working group on the internationalization of companies, coordinated by the Executive Secretary of the Board of Foreign Trade (CAMEX). One of its purposes was to analyze and study, jointly with the private and academic sectors, some proposals for public policies facilitating this kind of process. In this context, such group studied the experiences of other countries and the role of the Government. It analyzed and identified the major obstacles in order to remove or mitigate the negative impact of the regulatory framework and inappropriate actions to replace the current stage of development of the Brazilian production structure. In addition, the Government implemented other instruments for financing and supporting the internationalization of Brazilian companies through the Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil) by supplying working capital, issuing letters of credit for imports and financing exports.
Brazilian companies were encouraged to open subsidiaries abroad and/or buy foreign companies. Until the active participation of BNDES, the cases of successful internationalization stemmed from the companies themselves and were not the result of a deliberate Government policy to support the creation of Brazilian multinationals. From 2005 to 2012, BNDES disbursed more than R$ 12 billions in internationalization projects for different sectors (capital goods, electronics, energy, engineering and construction, agribusiness).
Due to those figures, BNDES is now facing criticisms for its role of financing those Brazilian companies. The main arguments are that the loans resulted in losses of debts, export of national savings and creation of jobs abroad. The Government and BNDES are rebutting those criticisms by arguing that they have been doing this since 2005 what all developed countries have been already doing for decades, i.e., efforts to promote the opening of new markets for their local companies.
In2006, for the first time in history, the amount of direct investments made from Brazil to other countries was higher than the investments received. Brazil reached the 10th position in the ranking of the biggest investors worldwide and the third biggest foreign investor among the nations in development.
This trend is positive for the Brazilian economy. Despite this movement, the Brazilian Central Bank's data shows that investing abroad is something for large companies. Brazil currently has 2300 companies conducting international operations; however, most of the investments are made by large companies. The group of companies with resources over US$ 1 billion accounted for 66% of the investments.
Although the internationalization process has been already in place for a decade in Brazil, and the Brazilian multinationals have a shy presence worldwide compared to other competitors, this trend shows that the Brazilian companies continue to grow and seek markets abroad. Perhaps, in a first approach, they are mainly seeking their own Region (among the 20 largest companies, 10 of them concentrate their activities in Latin America), but quite likely, in a second stage, companies will get stronger nationally and expand their business towards more distant markets.
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