Chile Economy

Agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forest resources. In the middle of the 20th century, Chile, which until then had been an exporter of agricultural products, became an importer, since production no longer met domestic needs. There are several causes of this agricultural crisis: traditional farming systems; a land ownership structure polarized between large estates and smallholdings, with small medium-sized properties; and absenteeism for many landowners.

In addition to the inadequate structures of land ownership, the physical environment represents an obstacle to the development of agricultural activities in most of the Chilean territory, since only 15% of the soil is arable. Of that percentage, almost half corresponds to central Chile. In the north it is only possible to cultivate some sections, through irrigation, while the south of the country (Patagonia) is an almost exclusive domain of extensive livestock.

The first place in agricultural production is cereals: wheat, mainly, but also oats, barley, corn and rice. Fruits (apples, plums, peaches and citruses) follow cereals by volume of production. The vineyards, introduced by the Spanish, occupy large extensions in the Santiago region and are the base of the second Latin American wine industry after Argentina. Other less important crops are legumes (beans, lentils and peas) and potatoes. Among the crops for industrial use, sugar beet stands out.

Livestock is the economic base of the southern zone. For the number of heads, the bovine herd stands out. The sheep, second in importance, supplies wool for export; half of that cattle are found in eastern Patagonia, where they graze on huge farms. The national production of meat (sheep, bovine and swine), does not meet the total demand, complemented by imports from Argentina.

The fishiness of Chile’s territorial waters allowed the development of an important fishing industry. The most important fishing ports are Arica and Iquique. Among the species caught are the anchovy, the sardine, the tuna and the seafood.

According to Recipesinthebox, Chile has great forest resources in the regions located to the south of the Bío-Bío River. The natural araucaria, oak and beech forest is the object of logging that meets the needs of carpentry and construction, producing a surplus for export. Reforestation with pine trees, which supply the pulp and paper industries, has been promoted.

Energy and mining

The main source of energy is hydroelectric power, produced by torrential water courses in central Chile. The facilities of the National Electricity Company are located in Chapiquiña, El Sauzal, Los Cipreses, Abanico etc. The oil is extracted in the provinces of Magallanes and Tierra del Fuego, however the modest production forces the country to import.

Since the 19th century, mineral resources have been the basis of the Chilean economy. Initially, it was sodium nitrate, known commercially as saltpeter from Chile, and then copper, of which the country is one of the largest producers in the world.

In Chile, natural nitrate is only found in the Atacama desert. Since the end of the 19th century, the export of this mineral has been the main source of resources in the country. After the first world war, the fall in demand and, above all, the manufacture of synthetic nitrates in Germany and the United States, caused a strong crisis in the export of saltpeter from Chile, which could not compete with the low price of synthetic products.

The fall in nitrate was offset by the growing importance of copper. Chile has a quarter of the world’s reserves of this mineral. The main mines are those of El Teniente (Rancagua), Chuquicamata (Antofagasta), Potrerillos (Copiapó), El Salvador and Río Blanco. Exploration was in the hands of American companies, medium-sized Chilean companies and private miners (miners), but was nationalized in the second half of the 20th century.

The Chilean subsoil also has reserves of iron, gold, silver, manganese, mercury and sulfur.


Chile is one of the most industrialized countries in South America, alongside Brazil and Argentina. However, its industry has not been able to meet the needs of the national market. Although a decentralization policy was initiated in the 1960s, central Chile continues to concentrate most industrial facilities.

The steel industry, installed in large complexes in Huachipato and Talcahuano, supplies semi-finished products to the automobile and shipbuilding industries. The chemical industry, which started with the production of nitrogen fertilizers, diversified, and the petrochemical industry reached great importance in Concón and Talcahuano.

Among the consumer goods industries, textile stands out, which is located in Concepción, Valparaíso and Santiago. The food industries are very varied, with emphasis on meats, flours, dairy products, preserves and alcoholic beverages.

Foreign trade

The trade balance, traditionally in deficit, tended to balance and even to a surplus in the 1908s. In exports, mineral products (headed by copper) predominate. Sales of fruits and vegetables, fish meal, paper and paper products are also important. The import list includes food products (sugar, bananas, tea), equipment, motor vehicles, oil and manufactures.

Chile maintains intense commercial relations with Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Brazil and, mainly, with the United States, a country with which it has ties in both the commercial and financial spheres.

Chile Economy