South America Economics and Business


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 countries.

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).

South America Countries

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.

Country GDP growth (percent) GDP per person (US dollar)
Argentina -2.2 (2019) 11 653 (2018)
Bolivia 2.2 (2019) 3,549 (2018)
Brazil 1.1 (2019) 8,921 (2018)
Chile 1.1 (2019) 15 923 (2018)
Colombia 3.3 (2019) 6 651 (2018)
Ecuador 0.1 (2019) 6 345 (2018)
Guyana 4.7 (2019) 4 635 (2018)
Paraguay 0.0 (2019) 5,871 (2018)
Peru 2.2 (2019) 6,947 (2018)
Suriname -0.8 (2019) 5,950 (2018)
Uruguay 0.2 (2019) 17 278 (2018)
Venezuela -3.9 (2014) 16 054 (2014)

South America Economics and Business

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