Trade, Materials Flows, and Economic Development in the South: The Example of Chile

Materials flow analysis (MFA) is internationally recognized as a key tool to assess the biophysical metabolism of societies and to provide aggregated indicators for environmental pressures of human activities. Economy-wide MFAs have been compiled for a number of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, but so far very few studies exist for countries in the South. In this article, the first materials-flow-based indicators for Chile are presented. The article analyzes the restructuring of the Chilean economy toward an active integration in the world markets from the perspective of natural resource use in a time series from 1973 to 2000. Special emphasis is placed on the assessment of materials flows related to Chile’s international trade relations. Results show that material inputs to the Chilean economy increased by a factor of 6, mainly as a result of the promotion of resource-intensive exports from the mining, fruit growing, forestry, and fishery sectors. At more than 40 tons, Chile’s resource use per capita at present is one of the highest in the world. The article addresses the main shortcomings of the MFA approach, such as weight-based aggregation and the missing links between environmental pressures and impacts, and gives suggestions for methodological improvements and possible extensions of the MFA framework, with the intent of developing MFA into a more powerful tool for policy use.