Bolsonaro admits on November 19 the possibility of privatizing non-core assets of Petrobras

On November 19, president-elect Jair Bolsonaro declared during a press conference that he considers Petrobras a strategic company and therefore not liable for complete privatization, but he also admitted to being in conversations with his economic team about the possibility of privatizing some of its business areas. Vice-president-elect Hamilton Mourao later declared more specifically that exploration and production areas will not be privatized, but the new administration will be open to negotiations on non-core assets such as distribution and refining. Jair Bolsonaro has appointed economist Roberto Castello Branco as the next chief executive of the company, and his economic advisor Paulo Guedes as the next minister of the economy, both notable advocates for privatization of all state-owned companies, including Petrobras.


The debate concerning the privatization of Petrobras is longstanding, and previous attempts to sell parts of the oil company's businesses have been traditionally met with strong resistance from large shares of the political sector and society in general. These sectors believe that Petrobras must remain a public enterprise under the "control" of the Brazilian people in order for the trade in natural resources to benefit the entirety of the country. Bolsonaro has made similar statements in the past, and the appointment of Castello Branco and Guedes pushes the odds further in the direction of limited privatization.. Precedent indicates that Petrobras employees are likely to protest when they perceive a negative impact from decisions related to oil industry, as was the case on June 2018 when they conducted a 72-hour strike against pricing policy. With this in mind, even a proposal for moderate privatization of downstream operations, such as distribution and refining, is liable to lead to strikes and demonstrations from unions and workers, as well as the general public.

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