Colombia has been the world's leading exporter of emeralds. It also produced a significant amount of gold (ranking second in the region), was Latin America's only producer of platinum and third-largest producer of cement, and was a leading producer of nickel. In 2002, cement, gold, coal, and emeralds were among the country's leading industries, and petroleum and coal were, respectively, the first- and third-leading export commodities. Colombia also produced sizable amounts of common clay, kaolin, dolomite, gypsum, limestone, hydrated lime and quicklime, magnesite, nitrogen (content of ammonia), rock and marine salt, sand, gravel, marble, feldspar, phosphate rock, and sodium compounds (sodium carbonate), as well as small quantities of sulfur (native, from ore), asbestos, bauxite, bentonite, calcite, diatomite, fluorite, mercury, mica, talc, soapstone, prophyllite, dolomite, and zinc.
Production figures for principal nonfuel minerals in 2001 were: gold, 21,813 kg, down from 37,018 in 2000; emeralds, 5.5 million carats, down from 8.5 million in 2000 and 9.4 million in 1998; platinum, 674 kg, up from 339 in 2000 and down from 973 in 1995; nickel, 52,962 tons, compared with 58,927 in 2000 and 29,422 in 1998; iron ore and concentrate, 637,000 tons, down from 755,000 in 1997; silver, 7,242 kg, up from 3,515 in 1997; and feldspar, 55,000 tons. Production of nickel content of ferronickel increased by 38.6%, to 38,446 tons—Colombia was the third-largest producer of ferronickel. In 2001, mining, which was dominated by the fuel sector, represented 7.5% of the GDP. GDP grew by 1.5% in the year, following 2.8% growth in 2000 and a 4.5% decrease in 1999. High unemployment and a decrease in petroleum output were significant factors limiting growth. Mining and quarrying was the only segment of the economy to decrease (by 6.4%), the second consecutive year of decrease. In 1997, mining, including the petroleum sector, accounted for $1.7 billion of the $5.3 billion in total foreign investment in Colombia. Expansion of the mining sector was hampered by ongoing terrorist activity, including sabotage of mining and pipeline facilities. In 2001, the volume of most minerals either decreased or remained the same, with the exceptions of coal, ferronickel, platinum, and pig iron. The value of traditional exports, which included coal, coffee, emeralds, ferronickel, and petroleum, decreased by 18.3% in 2001; nickel contributed $235 million, and the official value of emerald exports totaled $89.2 million.
The production and sale of emeralds—90% destined for exports—was a joint private–government venture administered by MINERALCO, the government-run mining agency. Emeralds were produced at four mines—Chivor, Coscuez, Muzo, and Quipama—in the sedimentary basin of the Cordillera Oriental, in Boyacá, in the Cinturón Esmeraldífero Oriental and Cinturón Esmeraldífero Occidental; more than 60 production licenses were active. All gold production was by private companies, small mining cooperatives, or individual prospectors. All platinum was mined by small mining cooperatives or individual prospectors, at Río San Juan, Choco. Silver was produced in Segovia and Río Nechi, Antioquia.
The country's substantial copper, iron, nickel, and lead reserves were of major importance to the future development of the economy. The El Roble copper mine, all of whose output was exported to Japan, was expected to be depleted in the very near future. A copper deposit with reserves estimated at 625 million tons was discovered at Pantanos, Antioquia, in 1973. Cerro Matoso S.A., a subsidiary of BHP Billiton PLC, was the country's sole producer of nickel and ferronickel, near Monetlíbano, Córdoba. Reserves of the lateritic nickel mine were estimated to be 39.9 million tons with a 2.3% nickel content. A second production plant, completed in 2001, ahead of schedule, was set to double Cerro Matoso's ferronickel production capacity to 55,000 tons per year of nickel.
Under Article 332 of the 1990 Constitution, replacing the 1866 Constitution, the state retained the rights to all surface and subsurface nonrenewable and natural resources; the government granted concessions for exploration and production. In 1989, a new mining code sought to encourage mineral exploration and development by expediting the processing of claims, improving the security of mineral occupancy and tenure, and providing financial aid to small- and medium-scale miners. The mining code of 2001 sought to encourage exploration and production of mineral resources and limit the role of the government to one of a regulatory and administrative entity, with more production transferring to the private sector. The law also clarified the provisions for establishing mining contracts. The government planned to privatize 28 state-owned companies, including the coal producer Carbones de Colombia S.A. (CARBOCOL) and the nickel producer Cerro Matoso. Salt production was a government monopoly. Government plans for infrastructure improvements and new development in recent years have been hampered by slow economic growth.