Demography: Population, 14.9 million; 1.23% growth rate (1999 estimates); Spanish language, predominantly Roman Catholic religion.
Geography: In southern South America, bordering the South Pacific and South Atlantic oceans; low coastal mountains in west, fertile central valley, Andes mountains in east; generally temperate with desert in north, cool and damp in south.
Government: Republic. Chief of state and head of government is President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle until his term expires in early March. He will be suceeded by Ricardo Lagos Escobar.
Official agricultural agencies: Ministry of Agriculture under Minister Angel Sartori (as of December 1999). Comercializadora de Trigo S.A. (COTRISA) is a government-capitalized agency that oversees wheat price support programs.
Economy: According to the World Bank, Chile enjoys the most open, stable and liberalized economy in Latin America, with the private sector serving as the engine of growth for this trade-based economy. In the past 20 years, leaders have emphasized trade liberalization, capital and labor market reforms, privatization and development of a regulatory framework to encourage economic expansion. Copper is the traditional export, but efforts to increase agricultural exports have been successful. Growth in real gross domestic product in the 1990s averaged 7% a year through 1997, and although the global financial crisis has since trimmed expansion, Chile remains among the continent's most prosperous nations. Copper mining is the most dominant sector, although fishing and forestry also are linchpins of economic growth. Agriculture accounts for 6% of gross domestic product, with agriculture, forestry and fishing, employing 19.2% of the labor force.
G.D.P. per capita: U.S.$12,500 (purchasing power parity); 3.5% growth rate; 4.7% inflation; 6.4% unemployment (all 1998 estimates).
Currency: Chilean peso. Jan. 10, 2000 exchange rate: 523.57 pesos per U.S. dollar.
Exports: U.S.$14.9 billion (f.o.b., 1998), copper, fish and fishmeal, fruits.
Imports: U.S.$17.5 billion (f.o.b., 1998), capital goods, raw materials, parts.
Major crops / agricultural products: Wheat, maize, fruits, vegetables, fish.
Wheat: Chile's major grain crop; production in the past five years averaged 1.4 million tonnes per year, in a range of 1.2 million in 1998-99 (a drought year) to nearly 1.7 million in 1997-98. Total consumption in the past five years averaged close to 2 million tonnes, reaching a 15-year peak of 2.132 million tonnes in 1995-96. In the past four years, use has dipped slightly, averaging 1.947 million tonnes during that time. Chile imports an average of about 600,000 tonnes a year to cover the production-to-use deficit.
Maize: Five-year output averaged about 800,000 tonnes annually, while use averaged about 1.7 million tonnes. Consumption has been increasing steadily as the livestock and poultry industries expand. Although the five-year import average stands at 883,000 tonnes, imports have exceeded 1 million tonnes in each of the past three marketing years, rising to a forecast 1.2 million tonnes in 1999-00.
Transportation: Rail, 6,782 km, with 3,743 consisting of 1.676 m gauge and 2,923 of 1.0-m gauge; highways, 79,800 km, 11,012 paved; major ports are Valparaiso, Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta and San Antonio, which is the primary port for grain imports.