Uruguay's greatest natural resource is its rich agricultural land, almost 90% of which is devoted to livestock raising. Cattle, sheep, horses, and pigs are the major livestock animals. Grains for cattle fattening and human consumption make up the bulk of the harvested crops. Rice is the major food crop, followed by wheat and sugarcane. Corn is the principal feed concentrate. Barley, oats, and grain sorghums are also grown, and oil crops (flaxseed and sunflower seed) and sugar beets are important. In the vicinity of Salto there are many orchards and vineyards.
Despite Uruguay's basically agricultural-pastoral economy, its dependence upon imports for most raw materials, and its lack of fuel resources, there is considerable industrialization. The processing of agricultural and animal products accounts for about half of the manufacturing activity; Fray Bentos and Paysandú are noted for their meatpacking plants. Other industries manufacture electrical machinery, transportation equipment, petroleum products, textiles, and chemicals. A large refinery near Montevideo processes imported crude oil. Mineral resources include marble, stone, granite, and bauxite. There are important hydroelectric plants on the Uruguay and Negro rivers. Fishing and forestry add to the country's economy.
Uruguay's magnificent beaches, such as those at Punta del Este, are great economic assets; tourists, chiefly from Argentina, contribute much to the national income. The country's transportation facilities are extensively developed. Meat, wool, and hides and skins constitute the majority of Uruguay's exports; rice, fish, and dairy products are also exported. Machinery, chemicals, and vehicles are imported. Brazil, the United States, Argentina, and Russia are the main trading partners. Uruguay is a member of Mercosur.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.