Chile's Key Facts

by World Grain Staff
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Capital: Santiago

Population: 16,454,143 (July 2008 est.)

Religions: Roman Catholic 70%, Evangelical 15.1%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.1%, other Christian 1%, other 4.6%, none 8.3% (2002 census).

Location: Southern South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Argentina and Peru.

Government: Republic; chief of state and head of government: President Michelle Bachelet Jeria (since March 11, 2006).

Economy: Chile has a market-oriented economy characterized by a high level of foreign trade. During the early 1990s, Chile’s reputation as a role model for economic reform was strengthened when the democratic government of Patricio Aylwin, which took over from the military in 1990, deepened the economic reform initiated by the military government. Growth in real GDP averaged 8% during 1991-97, but fell to half that level in 1998 due to tight monetary policies implemented to keep the current account deficit in check and because of lower export earnings, which was a product of the global financial crisis. A severe drought exacerbated the recession in 1999, reducing crop yields and leading to hydroelectric shortfalls and electricity rationing, causing Chile to experience negative economic growth for the first time in more than 15 years. Despite the effects of the recession, Chile maintained its reputation for strong financial institutions and sound policy that have given it the strongest sovereign bond rating in South America. Between 2000 and 2007, growth ranged between 2% to 6%. Throughout these years, Chile maintained a low rate of inflation with GDP growth coming from high copper prices, solid export earnings (particularly forestry, fishing, and mining) and growing domestic consumption. President Bachelet in 2006 established an Economic and Social Stabilization Fund to hold excess copper revenues so that social spending can be maintained during periods of copper shortfalls. This fund probably surpassed $20 billion at the end of 2007. Chile continues to attract foreign direct investment, but most foreign investment goes into gas, water, electricity and mining. Unemployment has exhibited a downward trend over the past two years, dropping to 7.8% and 7% at the end of 2006 and 2007, respectively. Chile deepened its longstanding commitment to trade liberalization with the signing of a free trade agreement with the U.S., which took effect on Jan. 1, 2004. Chile claims to have more bilateral or regional trade agreements than any other country. It has 57 such agreements (not all of them full free trade agreements) with, among others, the European Union, Mercosur, China, India, South Korea and Mexico.

GDP per capita: $13,900 (2007 est.); inflation: 4.4% (2007 est.); unemployment 7% (2007 est.).

Currency: Chilean peso. 529.7 Chilean pesos equal 1 U.S. dollar (Sept. 22, 2008).

Exports: $43.99 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): copper, fruit, fish products, paper and pulp, chemicals, wine.

Imports: $81.17 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): petroleum and petroleum products, chemicals, electrical and telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, vehicles, natural gas.

Major crops/agricultural products: Grapes, apples, pears, onions, wheat, corn, oats, peaches, garlic, asparagus, beans; beef, poultry, wool, fish, timber.

Agriculture: 4.8% of GDP and 13.6% of the labor force.

Internet: Code. .cl; 745,375 (2007) hosts and 4.156 million (2006) users.