The continent of South America is the world’s fourth largest continent, with a total surface area of 17,820,900 square kilometres. It lies across the tropic of Capricorn and the equator. The continent extends 7,400 km from the Caribbean Sea on the north to Cape Horn in the south and its maximum width, between Ponta do Seixas, on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, and Punta Pariñas, on Peru’s Pacific coast, is 5,160 km.
The continent population has more than doubled between 1960 and 2000. Approximately half of the population lives in Brazil. Average population growth rates approached 2.4% per year for the years between 1965 and 1990. The estimated number of people under the age of 15 in 2000 was 31% and the median age in 2000 was 25.1 years.
Several territories of South American republics are islands that lie in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. In the Pacific Ocean lies the Juan Fernández Islands and Easter Island, which are part of Chile and the Galápagos Islands which are a part of Ecuador. In the Atlantic Ocean lie the Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, a territory of Brazil and the British dependency of the Falkland Islands, which was claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas.
Most of South America’s trade is with other continents, the United States, Western Europe, and Japan being major trading partners. Brazil and Venezuela are the dominant trade exporters on the continent, and Brazil accounts for much of the imports. Petroleum and other petroleum related products are the principal components of foreign trade.
The most important regional trade association for South America is the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), formerly known as the Latin American Free Trade Association (LAFTA). The intracontinental trade consists mainly of commodities such as wheat, cattle, wine, and bananas. The external trade is the continents important trade and this consists of mainly trade in agricultural and mining commodities. South America is a major world contributor of petroleum, coffee, copper, bauxite, fish meal, and oilseed.
South American countries have attempted to form trading blocks or associations to protect markets from outside competitors. The Andean Pact between Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela was formed in 1969 did not succeed with these goals. Today several new trade associations have been formed. The most significant of these being the Southern Cone Common Market (known by its Spanish acronym MERCOSUR) between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, with Bolivia as an associate member; the Group of Three between Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela and also the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), which includes Colombia, Suriname, and Venezuela.
In 1994 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was established between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Argentina, Chile and Colombia have since shown interest in joining. Brazil has suggested a separate trade agreement for the South Americas, the South American Free Trade Area (SAFTA), based on MERCOSUR, and could eventually join NAFTA in a new hemispheric grouping.
South America can be roughly broken into four upland regions and three lowland regions. The northern and western regions are dominated by the worlds second largest mountain range the Andes, and the eastern regions are the highland areas of Guiana and Brazilian massifs and the Patagonian region. In the northern half of South America only the Andes region has a cool climate.
The largest lowland region is in the equatorial part of the continent, the Amazon basin. The climate in these regions is wet and tropical. The rain forests in these regions are the largest forests in the world, covering much of equatorial South America, including the Brazilian coast and the lower slopes of the Andes.
The lowest part of South America is the on the Península Valdés in eastern Argentina, which is 40 meters below sea point. The highest elevation is 6,960 meters above sea level, atop Aconcagua in western Argentina.
South America’s water drainage is mostly due to three main rivers emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The rivers, The Amazon, Orinoco and Paraguay-Paraná are also important transport routes. South America has few large lakes and amongst them includes Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains, Nahuel Huapí Lakes in Argentina and Lake Valencia in Venezuela.
Spanish is the official language of 9 of the 13 countries on the continent. The official language of Brazil is Portuguese, English is the official language of Guyana, Dutch of Suriname, French of French Guiana and both Guaraní and Spanish of Paraguay. Many Native American languages are also spoken, they are primarily Quecha, Aymara and Guaraní.
Economic Growth and Opportunities Economic Growth and opportunities
South America has benefited from the trade agreements into which the various countries have entered. Since the development of free trade in the 1960’s with the Andean Pact and more importantly the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the continent has greatly improved it’s economic prospects.
South America’s agricultural industry (included in this is hunting, forestry and fishing) accounted for about 12% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 1990’s. The labour force in the agricultural industry however, accounted for more than 30% in Colombia, Brazil and Guyana and lower than 20% in Suriname, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, French Guiana and Venezuela.
The industrial sector in South America in the late 1990’s accounted for more than 30% of the GDP in Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil.
South America is a continent with extremely diverse resources, many of which have as yet been untapped. Although the mining industry has in the late 1990’s suffered due to low gold and base metal prices and the withdrawal of many firms from countries, the industry still attracts the most money in exploration. The continent is 50% forested and seas contain a rich marine life, however the fishing and forestry industries are still relatively small and are mainly orientated towards domestic markets. Some hardwoods and tropical woods mainly coming from the Amazon Basin where large areas are being deforested are exported, as well as pine from southern Brazil and Chile. Vast areas of commercial forests have been planted in Brazil and Chile for lumber.
There are significant opportunities for investment and economic growth in these industries and more. The industrial industry for example presently faces mainly problems: the size of the national markets is small and the technology in the countries is limited. Transportation and distribution networks are weak. Some countries have heavy industries such as steel and iron plants, motor vehicle assembly plants for export, however there is still potential to develop these industries further.
Many governments including Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Venezuela have begun privatizing nationalized industries for immediate financial benefit, such as the transportation and communications industries, however this has resulted in significantly higher unemployment rates and has increased the costs of goods and services.