Brazil - Country Commercial Guide
Architecture, Construction and Engineering (ACE) Services

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-01-12

Overview 

Due to the so-called Car Wash Operation” (Lava-Jato in Portuguese), Brazil’s major construction companies have been at the center of police investigations, which has negatively impacted their ability to do business. Due to the weakened state of these construction firms, there has been an increase in activity of medium-sized companies as well as foreign players in the market. Analysts are seeing a slow recovery, encouraged by the expectation of lower inflation and interest rates – as of December 2020, the official “Selic” rate is at a historic low level of 2.00%. 

To boost the economy, the government created the Investment Partnerships Program (Programa de Parcerias de Investimentos – PPI), which was initiated to increase the contribution of private capital to infrastructure projects in Brazil. The purpose of the PPI is to expand and strengthen the relationship between the state and the private sector through partnership contracts (including concessions, public-private partnerships, permissions or leasing of public assets, and any other public-private arrangements that have a similar legal structure), enabling business opportunities and helping Brazil to resume growth. 

Another Federal Project is the low-income housing Project “Minha Casa Minha Vida”, a program launched in 2009 to build one million homes (out of an estimated deficit of about 7 million units). Over the last 10 years, the Federal Government hired the construction of about 6 million housing units, with more than 4 million already delivered.  

Impacts of COVID-19 in the ACE sector 

The pandemic severely hit this sector in Brazil, which by March 2020 reached the lowest activity rate in four years. To counteract this, the Government issued a decree that classifies construction as an essential service, which caused a positive impact. Also, financial measures adopted by the Ministry of Finance and the banking system, issuing new credit lines for the sector, will benefit it with the maintenance of over 1.2 million jobs and the construction of over 530,000 new habitation units. Programs such as Minha Casa, Minha Vida will benefit from these credit lines.

Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services 

The U.S. Commercial Service recommends that U.S. firms with no physical presence in Brazil partner with Brazilian firms before bidding directly on projects. 

In the architectural sector, the overall experience for registration and licensing has shown that foreign architectural firms with international awards or a specialized niche have been the most successful at attracting partnerships with Brazilian architectural firms. Having a local office with the necessary licensing to do design work in Brazil is very advantageous as well, due to the hefty taxes levied by Brazil for importing services, including architectural services. 

To justify these costs, Brazilian clients prefer to work with firms that have certain expertise that is normally not available from a local architectural firm. This option works for U.S. firms looking to do business in Brazil over the long term, as starting a business in Brazil and obtaining the necessary approvals to do architectural work in the country is not a short-term process. 

The exchange rate may be a limitation for the importation of US goods and services: Since the beginning of the year, and in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a huge fluctuation of the US Dollar face to the Brazilian Real – from 4.02 R$/1.00 US$ in January 2020 to 5.59 R$/1.00 US$ in June/2020.   

Import Requirements & Documentation 

The general rule is that any foreign company can be a partner, investor or shareholder in a Brazilian company, making the Brazilian company a subsidiary of the foreign entity. The Brazilian company will then be fully governed by Brazilian law and will have the same rights and responsibilities as any other Brazilian company. 

Opening a branch of a foreign company in Brazil is slightly more complicated. This requires specific authorization from the Brazilian Ministry of Economy. A foreign company that wishes to install a local branch in Brazil will have to send a formal request to the ministry where the National Department of Trade Registration, known as DNRC, will evaluate the request. 

To form a limited partnership in Brazil it is necessary to have at least two partners. The general rule is that both partners in the company can be foreign and they can either be individuals or legal entities. 

It is important to emphasize that all companies formed in Brazil need a unique physical address. A virtual address is not accepted as a fiscal address. For operations where there are several companies registered at the same office address, it is common to specify which room each company is registered to, as this makes each address unique for fiscal purposes.  

Selling to the Government 

In the case of engineering, architecture or construction services for government projects (mostly infrastructure projects), public tenders are publicized which are usually open to foreign companies. But to participate in a public tender, any foreign firm must have a local presence, be it a representative or a local office.  

Distribution & Sales Channels 

As in most other industry sectors, foreign service providers must either establish themselves in the country or have a local representative to be successful in Brazil, as explained above.  

Pricing 

Price is a critical factor in purchase decisions, particularly in public bidding programs.  

Leading Sectors 

Leading sectors in the ACE industry include:  

  • Infrastructure Projects (ports, airports, railways, highways) 
  • Urban Planning 
  • Real Estate: new or retrofit 
  • Industrial: new or retrofitted plants 
  • Hospitality (new hotels, retrofit of existing hotels, transformation of residential buildings into hotels) 
  • Health Sectors (new hospitals and upgrades to existing hospitals) 
  • Education 
  • HVAC 
  • Furniture design 
  • Drywall technologies 
  • Lighting (residential, commercial, industrial, urban)
  • Sports venue design and equipment 
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) process 
  • Landscaping  

Opportunities 

In a country of over 200 million people spread over 27 states, there are numerous opportunities waiting to be explored by those eager to embrace new challenges and partner with creative and entrepreneurial Brazilians. With respect to the architecture, construction and engineering (ACE) sectors, green and sustainable businesses are gaining more attention. This includes legacy opportunities in several cities, such as large infrastructure projects: The government is seeking to increase U.S. private sector participation in infrastructure projects, with a confirmed federal pipeline of projects valued at more than US$ 1 billion for ports, US$ 14 billion in rail, US$ 2.5 billion in airports, and US$ 36 billion in highways. There are also projects at the state and municipal levels, in areas such as sanitation. 

An area that is booming in the ACE sector is Construction Tech, or Construtech as it is named in Brazil. Startups are investing in areas such as field management, equipment and construction materials marketplaces, and applications in mobile and cloud technologies, robotics, and software for the construction industry. In Brazil, there are already over 560 Construtech firms, and about $150 million was invested in 2019. 

It is recommended that new projects contain sustainable or “green” content, according to LEED, AQUA and other certification programs. According to the Brazilian Green Building Council, Brazil ranks fourth in LEED registrations worldwide, with over 2 millon² certified buildings, trailing only the United States, the United Arab Emirates and China. 

Web Resources  

  • The Brazilian Council for Architecture and Urbanism (CAU) - www.caubr.gov.br  
  • The Brazilian Association of Architecture Firms (ASBEA) - www.asbea.org.br 

The Brazilian Association of Architectural and Consulting Engineering Companies (SINAENCO) www.sinaenco.com.br 

For more information, please contact the US Commercial Service Industry Specialist at Patrick.Levy@trade.gov