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Mining in Latin America - Statistics and Facts

Latin America is an emerging economy across numerous sectors, but its significance in the mining industry has long been established. With the first records of commercial exploitation of mineral resources in the region dating back to the early 16th century, under the Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule, Latin American countries have since then climbed their way to the top ranks of global production for a variety of metals and minerals.

The land of precious metals

Despite having been heavily exploited for silver and gold for more than three centuries during European colonization, Latin America still stands out in the production of precious metals. Peru is home to the world’s largest silver reserves, while Mexico ranks sixth. These two countries, together with Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina, made the region responsible for more than half the amount of silver produced worldwide in 2018. Similarly, Peru, Mexico and Brazil all rank amongst the leading gold producing nations.

A copper empire

Regardless of its history in precious metals exploitation, in the 21st century Latin America’s metal empire is built out of copper, with eight out of the ten leading mining companies in the region operating primarily in the production of this metal. Chile, the largest copper producer in the world, accounted for 28 percent of global production in 2019, with an output surpassing that of the following top three combined. And the country’s dominance shows no sign of being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – in the first semester of 2020, the Chilean monthly copper production has been consistently higher than the reported in the previous year.

In turn, the global runner-up Peru faces a different story. Although the Peruvian annual copper production has shown a steady increase in the past decade, the country has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with mines being shut down and copper output showing decreases in the first four months of the year, when compared to 2019. In April 2020, the output of even the largest companies were strongly impacted.

A diversified portfolio

Still, Latin America’s mining success stems from more than a couple of metals. In terms of bauxite production, Brazil stands out in the global market, ranking amongst the top five. Nonetheless, Brazil's prominence in the mining sector lies in the ferrous industry. The country was the second largest iron ore mine producer in the world in 2019, with almost half a billion metric tons produced. The Latin American region has also kept up with the recent trends. Holding over 60 percent of global reserves, Chile and Argentina lead the region in terms of lithium production.

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Mining in Latin America

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