Economy of Suriname

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the backbone of the economy of Suriname is the export of aluminium oxide (alumina) and small amounts of aluminium produced from bauxite mined in the country. In 1999, the aluminium smelter at Paranam was closed and mining at Onverdacht ceased; however, alumina exports accounted for 72% of Suriname's estimated export earnings of US$496.6 million in 2001. Suriname's bauxite deposits have been among the world's richest.

Inexpensive power costs are Suriname's big advantage in the energy-intensive alumina and aluminium business. In the 1960s, the "Aluminum Company of America" (Alcoa) built a US$150-million dam for the production of hydroelectric energy at Afobaka (the Brokopondo Reservoir south of Brokopondo), which created a 1,560 kmĀ² lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. The fish in this lake are inedible for animals, due to the pollution of the mining industry.

West Suriname Plan

In 1976-1977 a 100 km long single track railway was constructed by Morrison-Knudsen Co. in West Suriname from the bauxite containing Bakhuis Mountains to the town of Apoera on the Corantijn river, to transport bauxite by river to processing plants elsewhere. The construction of this railway was financially funded by the Dutch government's independence/severance payments after November 25, 1975. After completion of this railway and associated facilities, for political and economical reasons it was never actually used and was left to be overgrown by the jungle. Also plans to construct a dam in the Kabalebo River were developed but never fully executed.

In 1984, SURALCO, a subsidiary of Alcoa, formed a joint venture with the (at that time) Royal Dutch Shell-owned Billiton Company, which did not process the bauxite it mined in Suriname. Under this agreement, both companies share risks and profits.

The major mining sites at Moengo and Lelydorp are maturing, and it is now estimated that their reserves will be depleted by 2006. Other proven reserves exist in the east, west, and north of the country sufficient to last until 2045. However, distance and topography make their immediate development costly. In October 2002, Alcoa and BHP Billiton signed a letter of intent as the basis for new joint ventures between the two companies, in which Alcoa will take part for 55% in all bauxite mining activities in West Suriname. The government and the companies are looking into cost-effective ways to develop the new mines. The preeminence of bauxite and ALCOA's continued presence in Suriname is a key element in the U.S.-Suriname economic relationship.

Dutch aid

After the return to a more or less democratically elected government in 1991, Dutch aid resumed. The Dutch relationship continues to be an important factor in the economy, with the Dutch insisting that Suriname undertake economic reforms and produce specific plans acceptable to the Dutch for projects on which aid funds could be spent. In 2000, however, the Dutch revised the structure of their aid package and signaled to the Surinamese authorities their decision to disburse aid by sectoral priorities as opposed to individual projects. Although the present government is not in favor of this approach, it has identified sectors and is now working on sectoral analyses to present to the Dutch.

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