Until recently, Argentina did not produce minerals in significant volume, but the future of the mining industry appeared secure. The mountainous northwest, especially Yujuy Province, was rich in many minerals. Privatization laws were introduced in 1989 to give investors greater guarantees, reduce bureaucratic delays, and attract foreign capital. The government continues to offer fiscal incentives and provide assistance to the small and medium mining producers at the center of the country's mineral production.
In 2001, nonfuel minerals accounted for less than 0.5% of GDP, a decrease from 2000. The value of mineral exports in 2001 was $754.2 million, up 6.1% from 2000; in 1991, the figure was $67 million. Ninety percent of that value was from metals. Copper concentrate and associated minerals accounted for $399 million. Gold and silver alloys followed, at $99.3 million, and nonalloyed aluminum accounted for $99 million. The total value of mineral imports decreased by 13.5%, to $483.4 million. Investment in the nonfuel mineral mining sector in 2001 was $267 million, down from $371 million in 2000 and $818 million in 1996.
Preliminary data indicate that mineral production totaled $1.03 billion in 2001, a sevenfold increase from 1997, despite the country's economic crisis. Metal production, including lithium, accounted for 57.5% of mineral production. Copper and gold concentrates contributed 76.3% of the value of metal production. Argentina was the third largest Latin American producer of aluminum in 2001 (255,000 tons of primary aluminum); one of six Latin American producers of mine lead and zinc, ranking second to Mexico in lead; and the fourth-largest producer of silver in Latin America.
Copper production increased by more than 30% in 2001, to 191,566 tons, up from 30,421 tons in 1997. The sole producer was Minera Alumbrera, operating from the Bajo de la Alumbrera open pit mine, in Catamarca Province, since 1998. The increase resulted from higher ore grade and recovery rates. For the El Pachón copper project, in San Juan Province, a feasibility study estimated reserves at 880 million tons and planned production of 250,000 tons per year.
Gold production, mostly from the Bajo de la Alumbrera and the Cerro Vanguardia mines, increased by 18%, to 30,630 kg, down from 38,515 in 1999 and up from 2,289 in 1997. The Cerro Vanguardia mine, in Santa Cruz Province, produced about 9,100 kg of gold and 65,600 kg of silver in 2001. The country's total silver mine output for 2001 was 152,802 kg, up from 78,271 kg in 2000 and 35,768 kg in 1998.
The high-grade underground Martha mine, in Santa Cruz, began producing gold and silver, and yielded an initial 175-ton shipment abroad in 2001 (17,600 grams per ton silver and 27 grams per ton gold), with plans to produce 101,000 kg of silver equivalent for the year. The Veladero gold project, in San Juan, increased production plans to 19,300 kg per year; its probable reserves had been increased to almost 250,000 kg of gold and4.05 million kg of silver. Other projects, Esquel, in Chubut Province, and Diablillos, in Salta Province, had, respectively, estimated resources of 130,000 kg and 25,300 kg of gold and 240,000 and 2.9 million kg of silver.
In 2001, 39,703 tons of zinc was mined, an increase of 14%, and 12,334 tons of lead was produced, a decrease of 12.6%. The yields, by the country's only producer of zinc and lead, Cía. Minera Aguilar, came entirely from Mina Aguilar, in production for 70 years.
Exploration began in 2001 on the Tecka platinum and palladium property, in Chubut Province, one of the largest unexplored layered ultramafic intrusive complexes in the world, leading to the discovery of two sulfide zones.
The atomic energy commission in 2001 sought authorization to solicit bids for the development of the Cerro Solo uranium deposit, whose estimated recoverable resources were 4,600 tons with an average content of 0.3% to 0.5% uranium.
Plans made in 2001 for the Río Colorado potash mine, in Mendoza and Neuqén provinces, included initial production of 500,000 tons of potassium chloride for five years and 1 million tons thereafter.
In 2001, Argentina produced 500,000 tons of crude boron materials, ranking third in the world, after the US and Turkey; the 1999 and 2000 totals were 245,450 and 580,000 tons, respectively. Output of iron ore was 239,400 tons in 1970, 1.04 million tons in 1988, 259,000 tons in 1991, and 4,000 tons in 1994. In 1997, Argentina imported 1.8 million tons of iron ore and concentrates. Among other industrial minerals, output in 2001 for limestone was 13 million tons; dolomite, 760,000 tons; crushed quartzite, 400,000 tons; crushed quartz, 95,000 tons; talc, 10,000 tons; bentonite, 120,000 tons; diatomite, 35,000 tons; feldspar, 61,000 tons; crude gypsum, 500,000 tons; kaolin, 50,000 tons; and salt, 1 million tons. The country also produced marble, clays, celestite, sodium carbonate, asbestos, barite, and vermiculite. Asphaltite, fluorspar, mica, manganese, and antimony are found mainly in the northwest. There are also deposits of lithium, beryllium, and columbium.