As the fourth largest of the world’s continents, South America is a region of vast extremes. While some countries are riddled with crime, poverty, and deprivation, others enjoy high-income lifestyles, stable economies, thriving ecosystems, and highly developed industries. Countries like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina are all taking huge stride in globalization and integration- and it’s clearly paying dividends. Find out which of the continent’s regions are doing the best for themselves with our breakdown of the richest countries in South America.
10. Guyana - Income (Per Capita): $8,524
The third-smallest sovereign state on mainland South America just makes it to our rundown of the 10 richest countries on the continent with a per capita of $8,524. The majority of Guyana’s wealth derives from the export of its agricultural products, including rice, sugar, bauxite and gold, timber, and minerals.
9. Ecuador - Income (Per Capita): $11,701
Ecuador’s developing economy (which has shown significant growth in the last decade) relies heavily on commodities such as agricultural products and petroleum, with bananas, coffee, rice, potatoes, cassava (manioc, tapioca), plantains and sugarcane; cattle, sheep, pigs, beef, pork and dairy products; fish, and shrimp; and balsa wood being its main exports. Thanks to its rich biodiversity and abundant wildlife, tourism has increased exponentially in the region over the past few years and is now a major contributor to its wealth.
8. Paraguay - Income (Per Capita): $14,131
Since the 1970s, Paraguay has enjoyed the highest economic growth of any South American country, and can now claim a per capita of $14,131. Its export trade is a huge contributor to its success (according to Wiki, it currently ranks as the sixth-largest soybean producer in the world, second-largest producer of stevia, second-largest producer of Tung oil, sixth-largest exporter of corn, tenth-largest exporter of wheat and 8th largest exporter of beef) while its energy, auto parts, and clothing industries are rapidly turning into huge income generators of their own.
7. Peru - Income (Per Capita): $14,252
Despite its history of oppression, coups, social unrest, and economic instability, Peru has made huge strides in improving global integration in recent years and is now one of South America’s highest-ranking sovereign states when it comes to social freedom. With a poverty rate of just 19% (one of the lowest in the region), it’s considered one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, with a diverse economy that’s currently experiencing rapid growth in telecommunications and biotechnology. As of 2019, it's per capita is $14,252.
6. Columbia - Income (Per Capita): $15,719
While it may still have some way to go until it catches up with some of its richest neighbors, Columbia has come on leaps and bounds in the last 15 years, both politically and economically. As home to one of the world’s fastest-growing informatization technology sectors, the country is enjoying a boom period, with rapid growth in GDP and a corresponding decline in poverty. Fueling the boom (quite literally) is its naturally abundant petroleum, which currently makes up 45% of all exports.
5. Suriname - Income (Per Capita): $15,845
Situated on the northeastern Atlantic coast of South America, and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, French Guiana to the east, Guyana to the west and Brazil to the south, the smallest sovereign state in South America is quietly doing rather well for itself. Aluminum ore, oil, and gold are three of its most profitable exports, with the majority of commerce taking place with its main trading partners of the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago and the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles.
4. Brazil - Income (Per Capita): $16,662
As the largest South American country both in terms of population and landmass, Brazil ranks as the continent’s most multicultural and ethnically diverse nation. Classified as an advanced emerging economy, its GDP is the ninth-largest in the world by nominal. Its mixed economy includes agriculture, industry, and a range of services, while its abundant natural resources make it the world’s largest producer and exporter of oranges, coffee, sugar cane, cassava and sisal, soybeans and papayas. Since weathering the political turbulence and recession of 2014, Brazil has regained its standing in the world to become the 4th wealthiest country per capita in South America.
3. Argentina - Income (Per Capita): $20,425
Up next with a per capita of $20,425 is Argentina. While it may be renowned throughout the world for the quality of its beef, there's more to the Argentina economy than cattle: with a literate population of around 43 million, and a diversified, export-orientated industry, the country has managed to put the turmoil’s of its pollical and economic past aside to rank 2nd overall in South America in the Human Development Index, and third in terms of per capita.
2. Uruguay - Income (Per Capita): $24,051
As the second richest country in South America, much of Uruguay’s wealth derives from the export of combed wool, rice, soybeans, frozen beef, malt, and milk. While many agricultural economies tend to be fragile, Uruguay’s is robust enough to support a per capita of $24,051. As well as being among the top South American countries when it comes to wealth, Uruguay also ranks first in Latin America in democracy, peace, corruption, and government, and first in South America when it comes to press freedom, size of the middle class and prosperity.
1. Chile - Income (Per Capita): $27,058
The long narrow stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range that makes up the South American country of Chile is the richest on the continent. As well as enjoying high living standards and a developed economy, Chile is also one of South America’s most advanced sovereign states, leading the charge in Latin America when it comes to human development, economic freedom, globalization, low corruption, and low homicide rate. Thanks to the strength of its mining, business and personal services, wholesale, retail trade, and manufacturing, the country enjoys a per capita of $27,058.
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Written by Liz Flynn
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