ASIA FLU SLOWS BRAZIL'S ECONOMIC GROWTH

ASIA FLU SLOWS BRAZIL'S ECONOMIC GROWTH

The already modest economic growth of the Brazilian economy was slowed to just 3.03 percent last year, according to new official figures released by the central bank in Brasilia on Tuesday.

This is roughly the same level as in 1996 - economic growth of 2.9 percent - and below the government projection of 3.5 percent.The impact of the Asian crisis was felt during the last quarter of the year, especially after the Brazilian government doubled interest rates late October in the face of a speculative attack against its currency.

The economic slowdown, as the new figures suggest, was felt immediately.

The Brazilian gross domestic product totaled $585 billion in 1997. Growth was driven by industry at 5.3 percent, whereas services and agriculture registered a weaker performance, growing 1.13 percent and 0.31 percent, respectively.

The slowdown will reinforce calls for a cut in interest rates, currently among the highest in the world, at 34 percent per year.

Hopes were dashed last week after news - which proved to be unfounded - of an imminent meeting of the monetary council to approve a rate cut in the wake of the legislative passage of long-sought social security reform.

Brazilian Finance Minister Pedro Malan told the Brazilian media on Monday that the council would meet only on March 4, the same day during which congress is due to give its final blessing to the reform, designed to alleviate Brazil's fiscal deficit.

The Brazilian central bank has also confirmed that the current account deficit in 1997 stood at $33.85 billion, or a troubling 4.2 percent of gross domestic product.