Historically, industrial development has been severely restricted by political instability, the small domestic market, the uncertain supply of raw materials, and the lack of technically trained labor. Domestic industry supplies less than one-fourth of the processed food and manufactured goods consumed. Over one-half of manufacturing output is in nondurable consumer goods—food, beverages, tobacco, and coffee. Handicrafts and hydrocarbons account for much of the remainder.
At their peak, Bolivia's tin mines accounted for 70% of the country's total export earnings, but in 1985 the London Metal Exchange abruptly halved the price of tin, causing economic chaos. The ensuing economic stabilization program was a mixed blessing to industry. The easing of foreign-exchange restrictions, the uniform 20% tariff, and the significant reduction in duties on nonessential consumer goods improved the availability of raw materials and semi-manufactured goods, thereby stimulating industrial growth.
In 1992, growth in the construction industry was a remarkable 15%, sustained both by the larger number of public works projects and by private investment. By 1995, this growth had slowed to 5%. The manufacturing sector grew by 3.8% in 1995, with the largest gains occurring in agriculture-based industries despite the problems resulting from the precarious state of agriculture. The mining and hydrocarbon sector contracted because of the decline in mining output and stagnation in the production of petroleum and natural gas. The drastic reduction of COMIBOL's production resulted from the closing of several mines and frequent labor disputes. The slump in the hydrocarbons subsector was because of the depletion of a number of wells, lack of investment in exploring for new deposits, and the torrential rains that damaged the infrastructure of the state-owned company.
In the late 1990s, Bolivia experienced a renaissance in the mining and hydrocarbons sectors due to privatization of the state-owned interests in these sectors. This attracted foreign interest in developing the energy and minerals potential of the country. In 2002, Bolivia had three oil refineries with a production capacity of 63,000 barrels per day.
The construction and manufacturing sectors were experiencing a slowdown in 2002, after three years of a stagnant economy. The development of the country's infrastructure was expected to be an engine for industrial growth, however. The opening of a gas pipeline to Brazil in 1999 was expected to take in much of Bolivia's natural gas production.