Bauxite was the country's leading industry in 2002, and gold and bauxite/alumina were the country's second-and third-ranking export commodities; bauxite and gold accounted for one-fifth of the country's GDP. Guyana was the fifth-largest bauxite producer in Latin America, and most bauxite was chemical grade, produced by Aroaima Bauxite Co. of Guyana. In 2001, production of bauxite was 1.985 million tons, down from 2.47 million tons in 2000; of refined gold, 14,183 kg; and of diamonds, all from alluvial operations, 178,698 carats, up from 81,706 in 2000 and 45,440 in 1999—the steep rise in 2001 was credited to the breakup of a Brazilian smuggling ring. The Omai mine, which accounted for 75% of Guyana's gold production, could be depleted by 2005. Laterite sand, crushed stone, other crude construction materials, and semiprecious stones were also mined in 2001. The Guiana Shield region was well known for its undeveloped resources of copper, gold, iron ore, manganese, nickel, platinum, and uranium, and undeveloped resources of columbite and tantalite were also being investigated in Guyana.
All mineral rights were vested in the state, but the government encouraged foreign investment through joint ventures or outright foreign ownership of Guyanese companies; mining concessions were negotiated with government agencies. In 1997, though, 12 individuals and private companies were licensed to purchase, store, and export gold on a trial basis. The Bauxite Industry Development Co., Ltd. (BIDCO) oversaw the entire industry in Guyana; efforts to privatize the two state-owned bauxite companies continued in 2001. Guyana's bauxite-mining industry came fully under state control in 1975, when the government nationalized Reynolds Guyana Mines Ltd., a subsidiary of the US company Reynolds Metals. The government agreed to pay compensation totaling $10 million in 13 annual installments. In 2001, Alcoa, having merged with Reynolds Metals, decided, because of high production costs, to sell its 50% share of Aroaima to the Guyana government for $1 and to write off the $60 million debt owed to it.