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Mexico: Nonfuel Mining
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Energy and Mining > Nonfuel Mining


In 1994 the mining sector accounted for some 2 percent of GDP and 1 percent of export earnings. It employed 230,000 people in 1988. Although Mexico had approximately 2,000 mining companies in 1989, the industry was highly concentrated, with four companies producing two-thirds of the country's total mineral output. These companies were the Mexico Industrial Mining Group, Inc. (Grupo Industrial Minera México, Sociedad Anónima -- IMMSA), Sanluís Industrial Corporation (Corporación Industrial Sanluís), Frisco Enterprises (Empresas Frisco), and Peñoles Industries (Industrias Peñoles).

During the 1960s, the government progressively Mexicanized the mining industry, most of which had previously been foreign-owned. A new mining law in 1961 required majority Mexican ownership and management of all mining companies. Within ten years, most companies had been Mexicanized. The government granted new concessions only to Mexican-owned enterprises and encouraged the growth of small and medium-sized operations.

The state vastly expanded its involvement in mining during the 1970s. The 1975 mining law restricted foreign companies to 34 percent participation in mining concessions on national reserves and in exploitation of certain minerals such as coal and iron ore. The government monopolized exploitation of oil and gas, phosphate rock, potassium, sulfur, and uranium. By 1980 it owned more than 40 percent of shareholders' equity in all mining activity. In 1983 mines owned by or affiliated with the state mining development commission were responsible for 87 percent of copper output, 76 percent of sulfur output, 28 percent of gold and silver, 27 percent of iron ore, 25 percent of coal, 18 percent of lead, and 10 percent of zinc.

The mining sector grew at an annual average of only 0.4 percent between 1983 and 1989. This stagnation resulted from outmoded mining technology, heavy government regulation, insufficient investment, and low world prices. The government responded in 1982 with a ten-year program to sell most of the state's forty-two mining properties. By early 1987, 46 percent of total mineral output was privately produced, and 42 percent came from state companies. In 1988 the government sold the Mexican Copper Company (Compañía Mexicana de Cobre) to private buyers, and in 1990 it privatized the country's largest open-pit copper mine, that of the Cananea Mining Company (Compañía Minera de Cananea), now called Mexicana Compañía de Cananea, despite a strike by the company's 3,800 workers to block the sale.

In the early 1990s, silver was the most valuable subsector in Mexico's mining industry.

Mexico's gold output stood at 14,400 kilograms in 1994. The Guanajuato area accounted for almost one-third of Mexico's annual gold production. This region's output decreased by about 1,000 kilograms between 1991 and 1992, slightly offsetting the increase of 900 kilograms of gold production from Sonora. Other important gold-producing areas were the San Dimas district of Durango and several small mines in Sinaloa. In 1992 Mexican and foreign mining companies showed increased interest in exploring for gold in the states of Sonora, Baja California Norte, Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa. Some foreign companies established wholly foreign-owned exploration enterprises by means of investment trusts.

In the early 1990s, Mexico was the world's seventh largest producer of copper. Copper ore output fluctuated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, averaging 282,500 tons per year between 1987 and 1991. Output fell slightly to 266,200 tons in 1992. Production of refined copper rose steadily from 140,800 tons in 1988 to 302,600 tons in 1994. Silver prices fell and copper prices rose in the late 1980s and early 1990s, increasing the value of Mexico's copper output over that of silver for the first time in several decades. Mexico's copper output was valued at US$663 million in 1992.

Mexico's western mining zone, which runs from the states of Baja California Norte, Sonora, Sinaloa, and western Chihuahua southward to Chiapas, is the country's main source of copper. The bulk of Mexico's 1992 copper output came from Sonora, where the country's three largest mines -- La Caridad, Cananea, and María -- are located. The Mexican Copper Company was Mexico's leading copper producer with 52 percent of total output, followed by the Mexican Compañía de Cananea with 23 percent.

In 1994 Mexico produced 163,700 tons of lead and 356,900 tons of zinc. Mexico's production of zinc constituted 4 percent of world output in 1992, and zinc ranked second among domestically mined minerals in terms of value, after copper but ahead of silver. Mine production of lead amounted to 5 percent of world lead output in 1992, and that mineral ranked fifth among domestically mined minerals in terms of value, ahead of gold. The most important producers of zinc and lead were Frisco Enterprises and Peñoles Industries, which together produced more than 80 percent of Mexico's total supply of these minerals. More than 60 percent of Mexico's lead and zinc output came from the state of Chihuahua, while much of the remainder came from the states of Zacatecas, Hidalgo, and San Luis Potosí.

In 1992 Mexico produced some 5.5 million tons of coal, and it had an estimated 1.7 billion tons of coal reserves. Further development, however, was not seen as commercially viable. The country consumed some 5.8 million tons of coal in 1992. In 1990 Mexico produced iron ore with a metal content of 5.3 million tons, most of it from Cerro el Mercado, Las Truchas, and Peña Colorado, at the mouth of the Río Balsas, on the Pacific coast. Most of Mexico's coal came from the Sabinas basin, about 100 kilometers north of Monterrey.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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