Bolivia's 2002 gross domestic product (GDP) totaled $9 billion. Economic growth is about 2.5% a year and inflation expected to be between 3% and 4% in 2002 (it was under 1% in 2001).
Since 1985, the Government of Bolivia has implemented a far-reaching program of macroeconomic stabilization and structural reform aimed at maintaining price stability, creating conditions for sustained growth, and alleviating poverty. A major reform of the customs service in recent years has significantly improved transparency in this area. The most important structural changes in the Bolivian economy have involved the capitalization of numerous public sector enterprises. (Capitalization in the Bolivian context is a form of privatization where investors acquire a 50% share and management control of public enterprises by agreeing to invest directly into the enterprise over several years rather than paying cash to the government).
Parallel legislative reforms have locked into place market-oriented policies, especially in the hydrocarbon and telecommunication sectors, that have encouraged private investment. Foreign investors are accorded national treatment, and foreign ownership of companies enjoys virtually no restrictions in Bolivia. While the capitalization program was successful in vastly boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) in Bolivia ($7 billion in stock during 1996-2002), FDI flows have subsided in recent years as investors complete their capitalization contract obligations.
In 1996, three units of the Bolivian state oil corporation (YPFB) involved in hydrocarbon exploration, production, and transportation were capitalized, facilitating the construction of a gas pipeline to Brazil. The government has a long-term sales agreement to sell 30 million cubic metres a day (MMcmd) of natural gas to Brazil through 2019. The Brazil pipeline carried about 21 MMcmd in 2000. Bolivia has the second-largest natural gas reserves in South America, and its current domestic use and exports to Brazil account for just a small portion of its potential production. Natural gas exports to Argentina resumed in 2004 at four MMcmd.
In April 2000, violent protests over plans to privatize the water utility in the city of Cochabamba led to nationwide disturbances. The government eventually cancelled the contract without compensation to the investors, returning the utility to public control. The foreign investors in this project continue to pursue an investment dispute case against Bolivia for its actions. A similar situation occurred in 2005 in the cities of El Alto and La Paz.
Bolivian exports were $1.3 billion in 2002, from a low of $652 million in 1991. Imports were $1.7 billion in 2002. Bolivian tariffs are a uniformly low 10%, with capital equipment charged only 5%. Bolivia's trade deficit was $460 million in 2002.
Protest and widespread opposition to exporting gas through Chile led to the resignation of President Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003. The government held a binding referendum in 2004 on plans to export natural gas and on hydrocarbons law reform. By May 2005, the hydrocarbons law draft was being considered by the Senate.
Bolivia's trade with neighboring countries is growing, in part because of several regional preferential trade agreements it has negotiated. Bolivia is a member of the Andean Community and enjoys nominally free trade with other member countries (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela). Bolivia began to implement an association agreement with MERCOSUR (Southern Cone Common Market) in March 1997. The agreement provides for the gradual creation of a free trade area covering at least 80% of the trade between the parties over a 10-year period, though economic crises in the region have derailed progress at integration. The U.S. Andean Trade Preference and Drug Enforcement Act (ATPDEA) allows (allowed?) numerous Bolivian products to enter the United States free of duty on a unilateral basis, including alpaca and llama products and, subject to a quota, cotton textiles.
The United States remains Bolivia's largest trading partner. In 2002, the United States exported $283 million of merchandise to Bolivia and imported $162 million. Bolivia's major exports to the United States are tin, gold, jewelry, and wood products. Its major imports from the United States are computers, vehicles, wheat, and machinery. A Bilateral Investment Treaty between the United States and Bolivia came into effect in 2001. Agriculture accounts for roughly 15% of Bolivia's GDP. The amount of land cultivated by modern farming techniques is increasing rapidly in the Santa Cruz area, where weather allows for two crops a year. Soybeans are the major cash crop, sold into the Andean Community market. The extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons accounts for another 10% of GDP and manufacturing less than 17%.
The Government of Bolivia remains heavily dependent on foreign assistance to finance development projects. At the end of 2002, the government owed $4.5 billion to its foreign creditors, with $1.6 billion of this amount owed to other governments and most of the balance owed to multilateral development banks. Most payments to other governments have been rescheduled on several occasions since 1987 through the Paris Club mechanism. External creditors have been willing to do this because the Bolivian Government has generally achieved the monetary targets set by International Monetary Fund programs since 1987, though economic problems in recent years have undercut Bolivia's normally good track record. Rescheduling agreements granted by the Paris Club have allowed the individual creditor countries to apply very soft terms to the rescheduled debt. As a result, some countries have forgiven substantial amounts of Bolivia's bilateral debt. The U.S. Government reached an agreement at the Paris Club meeting in December 1995 that reduced by 67% Bolivia's existing debt stock. The Bolivian Government continues to pay its debts to the multilateral development banks on time. Bolivia is a beneficiary of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC debt relief programs, which by agreement restricts Bolivia's access to new soft loans. Bolivia was one of three countries in the Western hemisphere selected for eligibility for the Millennium Challenge Account and is participating as an observer in free trade agreement negotiations.