Long a largely agricultural country, Spain produces large crops of wheat, barley, vegetables, tomatoes, olives, sugar beets, citrus fruit, grapes, and cork. Spain is the world's largest producer of olive oil and Europe's largest producer of lemons, oranges, and strawberries. The best-known wine regions are those of Rioja, in the upper Ebro valley, and of Málaga and Jerez de la Frontera, in Andalusia. Cattle, pigs, and poultry are raised. Agriculture is handicapped in many places by lack of mechanization, by insufficient irrigation, and by soil exhaustion and erosion.
The major industries produce textiles and apparel, foods and beverages, metals and metal products, chemicals, ships, automobiles, machine tools, clay and refractory products, footwear, pharmaceuticals, and medical equipment. Industries are concentrated chiefly in the Madrid region; in Valladolid; in Catalonia, which has large textile, automotive parts, and electronics manufactures; in Valencia; and in Asturias and the Basque Country, where the rich mineral resources of the Cantabrian Mts. (iron, coal, and zinc) are exploited. Copper is mined extensively at Río Tinto; other mineral resources include lead, uranium, silver, tin, and mercury. Petroleum is found near Burgos. Fishing, notably for sardines, tuna, cod, and anchovies, is an important source of livelihood, especially on the Atlantic coast, and fish canning is a major industry. Tourism is Spain's greatest source of income.
Most Spanish railroads, unlike those of the rest of Western Europe, use broad-gauged tracks, although some regional systems consist of narrow-gauge railways. In 1992 a high-speed standard-gauge railway connecting Madrid and Seville began operation.
Spain has made great economic progress in recent decades, but it still lags behind most of Western Europe. Though industry has grown considerably since the 1950s, the country still has a large trade imbalance. Spain's greatest trade is with France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain. Among the leading exports are machinery; motor vehicles; fruit, wine, and other food products; and pharmaceuticals. Major imports include machinery and equipment, fuels, chemicals, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, and medical instruments.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.