Portugal's mineral industry was modest, but the country was moderately rich in minerals. Portugal was the largest producer of mined copper in the EU, and beryl, dimension stone, ferroalloys, tin, and tungsten were also of international importance. Minerals were one of the country's dynamic industrial sectors, mainly because of the discovery and development of the Neves-Corvo copper and tin deposits. The Panasqueira mine was one of the world's largest producers of tungsten concentrates outside of China. Metalworking, oil refining, and chemicals were among the nation's leading industries in 2002, and chemicals ranked third among export commodities. Mining production in 2000 was at 90% of the 1990 level, higher than in 1997–1999, when output was at 86, 92, and 90%, respectively, of 1990's level. Tungsten, tin, and iron ore were mined in the north, copper pyrites in the south, and anthracite and lignite in the central region.
In 2000, the output of copper ore (metal content) was 76,200 tons, down from 114,637 in 1998, a decline caused by labor problems. Output of tungsten was 743 tons, compared to 434 in 1999 and 1,036 in 1997; tin, 1,227 tons, down from 4,637 in 1996; and iron ore and concentrates, 11,800 tons, up from 6,800 in 1998. The rich copper and tin deposit at Neves-Corvo (51% government owned) has helped rejuvenate the Portuguese mining industry. It had a capacity of 500,000 tons per year of copper and 5,000 tons per year of tin, and a mine life of 20 years. Avocet Mining PLC commissioned a new subvertical shaft at its Panasqueira mine to access 4.7 million tons of ore resources with an in situ grade of 0.33% tungsten oxide. Portugal also produced white arsenic, manganese, silver, uranium, anhydrite, hydraulic cement, refractory clays, diatomite, feldspar, gypsum, kaolin, hydrated lime, quicklime, lepidolite (a lithium mineral), nitrogen, pyrite and pyrrhotite (including cuprous), rock salt, sand, soda ash, sodium sulfate, stone (basalt, dolomite, diorite, gabbro, granite, both crushed and ornamental, graywacke, calcite marl limestone, marble, ophite, quartz, quartzite, schist, slate, and syenite), sulfur, and talc. Marble, mainly from the Evora District, was the most valuable of the stone products. A new deposit, at the Aljustrel mine/mill complex, encompassing five massive sulfide deposits, could be brought into production relatively quickly as a low-cost zinc producer; the most significant deposit, at Feitais, had 12 million tons of proven and probable minable zinc reserves with an average grade of 5.67% zinc, 1.7% lead, and 64 grams per ton of silver, and 1.6 million tons of proven and probable copper ore reserves with an average grade of 2.2% copper, 0.97% zinc, and 14 grams per ton of silver. Gold exploration activities continued in the Jales-Tres Minas District, which included the ancient Jales mine, east of Oporto.
The southern Iberian Peninsula, known as the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB), was one of the most mineralized areas of Western Europe and was geologically very complex. The IPB's internationally well-known volcanogenic massive sulfide (VMS) deposits, in the southwestern part of the peninsula, dated to the Upper Devonian and the Lower Carboniferous ages. Clusters of deposits occurred around individual volcanic centers, and the largest individual deposit located to date may have held an original reserve of 500 million tons, out of IPB's total resource of 1,725 million tons. Sulfide deposit resources in 1999 were 1,100 million tons.
Most of the large mineral-related companies were owned or controlled by the government. The government continued its privatization program and was proceeding with legislation to privatize many public companies, part of a broader program to make the economy more market driven. The structure of the mineral industry could change in the near future because of significant mining exploration by several foreign companies, particularly for copper, gold, kaolin, lead, lithium, pyrites, and tin. The IPB was the prime area for exploration activity, and had an above-average potential for success based on an unusually high number of large VMS deposits.