Germany's minerals and metals industry, which included industrial processing, construction, and mining, contributed almost 1% to the GDP, which grew at 2.8% in 2000, the fastest rate since reunification. Germany, whose export-oriented economy was the largest in Europe, accounting for more than 25% of the EU's economy, was a major processing nation, relying on imports of raw materials for the metals processing industry and the manufacture of industrial mineral products; one-third of national output went to external markets. Germany was a leader in the mining equipment manufacturing sector, and was among the largest and most technologically advanced producers of iron, coal, and cement. Although the underground mining sector has steadily declined—mining production in 2000 was at 79% of its 1990 level—certain minerals remained important domestically and worldwide. In 2000, Germany was the world's largest lignite producer, the world's third-largest producer of potash, Western Europe's second-largest producer of kaolin, a major European producer of crude gypsum, and self-sufficient in feldspar and salt. The only metal mineral still mined in Germany was uranium.
The ongoing cleanup of uranium mining operations in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) was viewed as Europe's biggest mine rehabilitation project—48 waste rock piles contained 311 million cu m of waste material, and 14 tailing ponds contained 160 million cu m of residues from uranium-oreprocessing plants; work in 2000 focused on decommissioning facilities and immobilizing contaminated material. Except for the very large lignite and potash operations, most of the producing and processing facilities in operation were small. The restructuring and privatization of facilities in the former GDR continued, including of the mineral-resource industries. Production figures for 2000 were, in million tons: potash, 3.4; kaolin, 3.7; marketable gypsum and anhydrite, 4, down from 4.6 in 1999; feldspar, 0.45; industrial dolomite and limestone, 77.9, up from 64 in 1996; and marketable salt (evaporated, rock, and other), 13.2, down from 15.9 in 1999. Kali und Salz AG, which operated seven mines in four potash districts, had 13% of the world potash market, 30% of the market for potassium sulfate, and a capacity to produce 3.5 million tons per year. In 2000, Germany also produced barite; bromine; chalk; clays (bentonite, ceramic, fire, fuller's earth, brick); diatomite; fluorspar; graphite; lime; quicklime; dead-burned dolomite; nitrogen; phosphate materials, including Thomas slag; mineral and natural pigments; pumice; dimension stone; quartz; quartzite; slate; building sand; gravel; terrazzo splits; foundry sand; industrial glass sand; talc; and steatite. In terms of overseas developments, Süd-Chemie AG was the largest bentonite producer in Europe. Between 140 and 160 small-to medium-sized clay mines were in operation; about one-half of the high-quality refractory and ceramic clays produced were from the Rhineland-Palatinate area. No iron ore was mined in 1999 and 2000; demand was met by imports of 47 million tons.