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Bolivia: Economy

Despite the importance of its tin, silver, and other mines and its large reserves of natural gas and crude oil, Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in Latin America and still largely lives by a subsistence economy. A large part of the population makes its living from the growing of coca, the source of cocaine; it is typically grown largely legally for the leaves and products in which they are used, and illegally for cocaine. Soybeans, coffee, cotton, corn, sugarcane, rice, and potatoes are the other major crops; timber is also important. Industry is limited to mining and smelting, petroleum refining, food processing, and small-scale manufacturing. The tin industry has received increasing competition from SE Asia, and as a result several tin mines have closed. Although Bolivia has much hydroelectric potential, it is underutilized.

Bolivia's natural resources and agriculture furnish the bulk of its exports, with natural gas, soybeans, crude petroleum, zinc, and tin most important. Petroleum products, plastics, paper, aircraft and parts, prepared foods, automobiles, and insecticides are important imports. Brazil, Argentina, the United States, and Peru are the chief trading partners. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community, an economic organization of South American countries.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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