South America accounts for about 8 percent of the world's
total GDP. Income is extremely unevenly distributed, and
poverty is widespread among people according to
Countryaah. After the economically and
politically troubled 1980s, structural changes have been
implemented in most countries, which has resulted in a
considerably greater stability, not least in the case of the
notoriously high inflation in many countries. However, the
variations in South America are large, and the informal
economy is usually extensive.
Agriculture contributes about 5 percent of GDP and
employs about 15 percent of the workforce. It is conducted
under varying conditions both on small farms with farms for
local consumption (mainly in the Andes) and on large goods
focused entirely on sales production (mainly in Argentina
and Brazil). The most important crops are maize, wheat and
rice. Large areas are also occupied by soybeans and
sugarcane. Other important products are coffee (Brazil and
Colombia), cocoa and bananas (Brazil and Ecuador) and citrus
fruits. Livestock management plays a major role in most
Half of the land area is forest, but real forestry is
only conducted in Chile and southern Brazil. The vast Amazon
area has an irreplaceable richness and represents a huge
potential asset, but is subject to extensive short-term
exploitation and rough degradation. Fishing is of greatest
importance on the Pacific coast (Chile and Peru).
Mineral resources are large and partly unexplored. Large
quantities of iron ore (Brazil and Venezuela), copper ore
(Chile) and tin ore (Brazil and Bolivia) come from South
America, whose mining also provides gold, silver, precious
stones, some alloys and bauxite. Coal resources are limited,
but the extraction of oil and natural gas is increasing.
Venezuela is one of the world's largest oil countries, and
Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador also have large production.
South America's water energy potential is great. Brazil in
particular has invested huge sums on developments, for
example by Itaipú in the river Paraná, which is the world's
largest hydroelectric power plant. Argentina and Brazil have
nuclear power plants.
The industry is under strong development in much of South
America. In Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela, the
traditional food and textile industry has been supplemented
by heavy industry (iron and steel plants, oil refineries,
petrochemical, chemical and metallurgical plants), and the
production of machinery, cars, household capital goods is
increasing rapidly. During the 2000s, a rapidly growing
high-tech industry was also developed. The largest
industrial regions are São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos
Aires, but also in many capitals and other major cities, the
industry is growing rapidly.
Exports, which in 1980 to 80 percent consisted of raw
materials and agricultural products and to 20 percent of
industrial products, have undergone a major structural
change; the proportions are now equal. The main trading
partners are the USA and the EU countries. In many places,
tourism is an increasingly important industry.
Transportation conditions in South America have been
difficult. The rail network is partly substandard, while the
road network is undergoing extensive expansion. Aviation is
generally very well developed, and the continent also has a
large number of good ports.