Country Listing

Uruguay Table of Contents



Uruguay expanded its involvement in international trade considerably during the latter part of the 1980s. Exports doubled (in nominal dollar terms) from US$854 million in 1985 to US$1.6 billion in 1989. Imports increased at a slower rate, from US$675 million in 1985 to US$1.1 billion in 1989. The merchandise balance of trade reached a positive US$463 million in 1989, helping to offset the demands of debt service.

The largest export markets were Brazil (US$443 million in 1989), the European Community (US$363 million), the United States (US$177 million), and Argentina (US$78 million). Brazil (US$369 million), Argentina (US$177 million), and the United States (US$109 million) were the leading sources of imports in 1988.

Uruguay's largest exports continued to be its so-called traditional products: wool (US$288 million in 1989), meat (US$225 million), and hides (US$129 million). While much attention continued to be focused on these three largest exports, a variety of nontraditional exports took on growing importance during the late 1980s. Goods such as processed foods, grains, fishery products, chemicals, and finished leather apparel together accounted for 60 percent of Uruguay's exports by the end of the decade.

Uruguay's largest import was crude oil. Imports of oil declined during much of the 1980s as Uruguay increased its reliance on hydroelectric power. Reduced oil prices in the late 1980s, combined with the reduction in the quantity of imports, helped improve the nation's overall trade balance. The value of oil imports declined from US$433 million in 1982 (40 percent of imports) to about US$120 million in 1988 (about 10 percent of imports). In 1989 the trend toward lower oil imports was reversed when the severe drought compromised Uruguay's capacity to generate hydroelectric power; oil imports increased to US$139 million. As a nation with no domestic sources of petroleum, Uruguay was particularly hard-hit by the oil price rise that accompanied the Persian Gulf crisis in late 1990. Domestic fuel prices were raised by over 50 percent during September and October 1990.

Several categories of industrial imports increased as Uruguay's manufacturing sector recovered from the recession. The largest increases were among semi-industrialized products, such as chemicals, rubber, and plastics, which increased from US$300 million in 1982 to US$500 million in 1987. Imports of capital goods (machinery and transportation equipment) dipped in the mid1980s but recovered to US$150 million in 1987, indicating that manufacturing activity could increase. In 1989, however, imports of capital goods fell by 14 percent to US$137 million.

Data as of December 1990