Uruguay - Mining

Mining accounted for 0.2% of GDP in 2001. The mining sector traditionally has been based on the economically significant exploitation of nonmetallic minerals for the construction, glass, and ceramics industries. The most important commodities were clay, bentonite, dolomite, feldspar, granite, gravel, gypsum, limestone, pebbles, quartz, sand, and talc. There was also minor production of semiprecious stones and ornamental rocks. Petroleum products and chemicals were among the country's leading industries in 2002. Various types of clay were mined for producing brick, pipe, tile, and whiteware. Talc was mined for use in the paper industry and in ceramics, cosmetics, insecticides, and pharmaceuticals. Feldspar was mined for the ceramics industry and glass. Production in 2001 included, in tons, common sand, 2.7 million tons, up from 2.1 in 1997; limestone, 1.3 million tons; clays, 24,950, down from 59,434 in 1997; gypsum, 1.05 million tons; agate, 500, up from 74 in 1997; and amethyst, 80, up from 45 in 1999. Also produced in 2001 were barite, bentonite, hydraulic cement, dolomite, feldspar, flagstone, gold, granite, gravel, iron ore, lime, marble, marl, onyx, quartz, stone (including ballast), sulfur, pryophyllite soapstone talc, traventine, and tufa tuff. Sand, common stone, and talcum were exported, although no minerals ranked among leading export commodities. Limestone had significant potential for export growth.

All products of the subsoil belonged to the state. There were more than 350 ongoing extraction projects; most were small scale. The past few years have seen a revival of minerals prospecting and exploitation, which had been idle for many years. Changes in national legislation have improved the business environment and opened the country to foreign investment, resulting in mining output growth of almost 4% per year in 1997–2001 and the implementation of gold and cement projects. There were deposits of manganese, iron, lead, and copper, and commercial gold mining was begun in 1997 at the San Gregorio mine, Rivera Department, and at the Santa Teresa deposit in 2001. Agates, opals, and onyx were found in Salto and Artigas. In 2001, diamond exploration was begun. Drilling began in 2001 on the Paso del Lugo nickel project.

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