About half of Paraguay's workers are engaged in agriculture and forestry; a much smaller percentage are employed in industry and mining, and many work outside the formal economy. The principal crops are cotton, sugarcane, soybeans, corn, wheat, tobacco, cassava, fruits, and vegetables; cattle and other livestock raising is also important. Orange groves furnish petitgrain, used in perfumes and flavorings. In addition to quebracho, hardwoods and cedars are commercially exploited. Meatpacking, sugar processing, textile and wood-products manufacturing, and the production of steel and consumer goods are the main industries. The country also has a large underground economy that encompasses smuggling, money laundering, and trafficking Andean cocaine.
Paraguay has minimal road and rail systems, and river transportation is the primary means of moving goods. Hydrovía, a proposed waterway to straighten and deepen the Paraná, was approved by Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in 1994, but environmental concerns have slowed implementation of the plan. The Itaipú Dam on the Paraná River, completed in 1991, is one of the world's largest, and the electricity it generates is economically vital to Paraguay as a source of export income and nearly all the nation's electricity. The Yacyretá hydroelectric project, also on the Paraná, was inaugurated in 1998.
The leading exports are soybeans, feed, cotton, meat, edible oils, electricity, wood, and leather. The leading imports are vehicles, consumer goods, tobacco, petroleum products, and electrical machinery. Paraguay is a member of Mercosur; its main trading partners are Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and China. Customs duties furnish an important part of the country's revenues, but are significantly undercollected due to smuggling.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.