SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil, the Central Bank of Brazil has launched an experimental lot of 10 real plastic notes. The bill depicts an image of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the Portuguese navigator who is considered Brazil's discoverer. The project is a four-year field test by the Central Bank, Jose dos Santos Barbosa, head of the Currency Management Department, said in a telephone interview.
"We are introducing 125 million plastic notes this year and another 125 million in 2001, in order to monitor their performance, as well as the public's general perception," he said. "We are not thinking about changing all currency in circulation for now, but if the test goes well, we could consider this possibility in the future."
The first Brazilian plastic notes were distributed April 25 to retail banks. They are being produced by Casa da Moeda do Brasil, a state-owned mint responsible for manufacturing all of Brazil's bank notes and coins.
Casa da Moeda is using a biaxially oriented polypropylene film substrate from Securency Pty. Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia. Securency is a joint venture between Note Printing Australia — the manufacturing subsidiary for the Reserve Bank of Australia — and BOPP film supplier UCB SA of Brussels, Belgium.
Barbosa said the search for a durable and difficult-to-counterfeit bank note led to plastic.
Brazil has 1.6 billion bank notes in circulation, including 500 million 10 real bills. Every year, the government has to replace huge quantities of deteriorated notes; in 1999, no less than 1.1 billion bank notes were replaced.
Plastic notes cost roughly twice as much as paper notes, but have lasted four times longer in Australia, New Zealand and Asian countries.
The new Brazilian note has a see-through window containing a verification filter. Barbosa said counterfeiting still is a big problem in Brazil, affecting roughly 0.01 percent of all notes in circulation. That statistic, she said, is growing.
"We are not here to defend paper or plastic, but we believe that polymer-based bank notes offer added safety elements nowadays. And avoiding falsification is one of the most important [goals of banks] all over the world," Barbosa said.
Brazil is the 15th country to put plastic bank notes into circulation.
"Defenders of paper money say that only `exotic' nations have adopted plastic bank notes, but that's not true. In late-1999, Romania and Northern Ireland launched their plastic note versions, and we've learned that the U.S. government is also analyzing the possibility," Barbosa said.
He said an eventual substitution of paper for plastic notes in Brazil would be approved only if Brazil had a locally established supplier for the very specific BOPP film developed for the application.
"We wouldn't be able to depend on imports for such an important matter," Barbosa said.
Sergio Detoie, Securency's account manager in Brazil, said the company is committed to opening a plant in the country if the plastic note business takes off.