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How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile’s Economic Story

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Although Chile has always been noted for its abundant mineral wealth, the country was actually not a notable copper producer even at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1907, for example, the United States was able to produce nearly 14X as much copper as Chile. The reality was that shortages in capital, organization, and water kept the country’s massive, low-grade deposits from being developed at any significant scale.

The Copper Standard

Things would change dramatically for Chile. The country has been the world’s top copper producer now for over 30 years, and today close to 50% of the country’s exports come from copper-related products.

Today’s infographic comes from Altiplano Minerals and it tells the story of how Chile tapped into its copper wealth to become the richest and freest economy in Latin America.

How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile's Economic Story

New milling technology, economic reforms, and increasing investment attractiveness were catalysts that turned Chile into a copper powerhouse. In turn, copper exports helped propel the Chilean economy to new heights.

“The Miracle of Chile”

This incredible leap can be summed up aptly with two facts:

1) Copper production went from under 1 million tonnes per year (late-1970s) to over 5 million tonnes per year (2000s).
2) Despite this massive rise, copper as a percent of exports fell. It went from a peak of 80% of exports to closer to 50% today.

Over this time, as the economy diversified, Chilean GDP per capita (PPP) gained massive ground on the Latin American average and passed it in the early 1990s.

Chile’s GDP per capita (PPP) today is the highest in Latin America of major economies:

GDP per capita (2015, PPP)
Chile$24,170
Argentina$22,459
Mexico$18,370
Venezuela$17,430
Brazil$15,941
Colombia$14,164
Peru$12,639
Ecuador$11,839
Guatemala$7,704

That said, critics of Chile’s economy will point to its inequality. The country’s Gini Coefficient, according to the World Bank, is higher (less equal) than only a handful of Latin American & Caribbean economies: Panama, Belize, Haiti, Suriname, Honduras, and Colombia.

Mining in Chile Today

Today, Chile’s mines produce copper, gold, molybdenum, iron, and silver. The country also produces more lithium than any country from its salars.

The country is the world’s undisputed copper heavyweight champion – it’s been the top producer for 30+ years and holds an impressive seven of the world’s top 14 copper mines. The biggest mine, Escondida, produces over a million tonnes of the red metal each year, equal to 5% of the world’s annual copper supply.

The copper crown is likely to be held by Chile in the future, as well. According to Cochilco, between 2000-2015 about 35 copper deposits and three gold deposits were discovered in central-north Chile. They increased the country’s resources by 208.6 million tons of copper and 34.3 million oz of gold.

The new copper discovered is roughly equal to 30% of global discoveries over the same time period.

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Mining

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

China produces more than half the world’s steel.

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Voronoi graphic showing top raw steel producers in 2023.

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Steel is essential for the economy due to its crucial role in infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

This graphic breaks down the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023. The data was sourced from the U.S. Geological Survey as of January 2024.

China Produces More Than Half the World’s Steel

One major issue facing the steel industry is overcapacity in top producer China.

Steel production in China has surpassed demand in recent years, leading to downward pressure on the profit margins of steel mills worldwide.

Historically, China’s troubled real estate sector has accounted for over one-third of the country’s steel consumption. To address this issue, the Chinese government has mandated steel production cuts since 2021.

Far behind China, India is the second-biggest producer of steel, followed by Japan.

CountryRegion2023 Production (million tonnes)
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia1,000
🇮🇳 IndiaAsia140
🇯🇵 JapanAsia87
🇺🇸 U.S.North America80
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope75
🇰🇷 S. KoreaAsia68
🌍 Rest of World420
Total1,870

Infinite Recyclability

Steel is an alloy primarily composed of iron ore containing less than 2% carbon, 1% manganese, and other trace elements. It is 1,000 times stronger than iron and can be recycled over and over without sacrificing quality.

Steel is widely used in various industries. It is a fundamental material in construction, providing support through beams, internal structures, and roofing.

Moreover, steel’s corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for water infrastructure. Stainless steel pipes are the preferred choice for underground water systems, ensuring longevity and purity in water transportation.

Additionally, most canned foods are stored in steel containers for preservation, as steel does not rust.

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