The minerals industry, consisting of the mining, industrial minerals, and metal processing sectors, was a small but important part of the national economy. Greece, the only Balkan country in the EU, was the union's largest producer of bauxite, magnesium, nickel, and perlite, and was second to the US in bentonite production (from Milos Island). Chromite (from Tsingeli Mines, near Volos) and zinc (from Kassandra Mines, in Olympias and Stratoni) were other important commodities. Greek marble, produced in all parts of the country, continued to play a leading role in the international dimension stone market because of its versatility and many colors (ash, black, brown, green, pink, red, and multicolored). With the exception of bauxite, Greece's mines operated far below their productive capacity. A relatively small industrial base, lack of adequate investment, and distance from EU markets have restricted the export potential of the country; the emerging Balkan markets could offer opportunities for growth. About 50% of the country's mineral production was exported. Northern Greece was thought to contain a significant amount of exploitable mineral resources, and most new activities were directed toward gold.
Production outputs for 2001 were: bauxite, 1.99 million tons, compared to 1.82 million tons in 1998 and 3.1 million tons in 1980; nickel (content of forronickel), 16,870 tons; crude perlite, 600,000 tons, down from 777,898 in 1999; and crude magnesite, 500,000 tons, down from 650,000 in 1998. Other types of magnesite produced were dead-burned, caustic-calcined, and crude huntite/hydromagnesite, which had unique flame-retardant properties. Grecian Magnesite S.A., with its open-pit mine at Yerakini, was a leading magnesite producer in the western world. Also produced in 2001 were alumina, lead, manganese, silver, barite, cement, kaolin, feldspar, gypsum (from Crete), anhydrite, nitrogen, pozzolan (Santorin earth, from Milos), pumice (from Yali), salt, silica, sodium compounds, dolomite, marble, flysch, quartz, sulfur, zeolite, and crude construction materials. No asbestos was produced in 1999–2001; ore output was 4 million tons in 1998 and 5 million tons in 1996. Other mineral deposits of commercial importance were antimony, gold (placer dredger), asbestos, emery, ceramic clay, talc, and limestone. Industrial processing of mineral ores was very limited until the 1960s and 1970s, when facilities for refining nickeliferous iron ore and bauxite were developed. In 2000, five mining companies handled 60% of the mineral industry's production.