Despite the importance of its tin, silver, and other mines and its large reserves of natural gas and crude oil, Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in Latin America and still lives by a subsistence economy. A large part of the population makes its living from the illegal growing of coca, the source of cocaine; a government eradication program begun in the late 1990s has depressed the economy in those areas where coca-growing was important. Soybeans, coffee, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, and potatoes are the other major crops; timber is also important. Industry is limited to mining and smelting, petroleum refining, food processing, and small-scale manufacturing. The tin industry has received increasing competition from SE Asia, and as a result several tin mines have closed. Although Bolivia has much hydroelectric potential, it is underutilized.
Bolivia's mineral wealth furnishes the bulk of its exports, although natural gas, soybeans, and crude petroleum are also important. Petroleum products, plastics, paper, aircraft and parts, foods, automobiles, and consumer goods are imported. Brazil, Argentina, the United States, and Peru are the chief trading partners. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.