The Zambian economy has historically been based on the copper mining industry. Output of copper had fallen to a low of 228,000 metric tons in 1998 after a 30-year decline in output due to lack of investment, low copper prices, and uncertainty over privatisation. In 2002, following privatisation of the industry, copper production rebounded to 337,000 metric tons. Improvements in the world copper market have magnified the effect of this volume increase on revenues and foreign exchange earnings.

In 2003, exports of nonmetals increased by 25% and accounted for 38% of all export earnings, previously 35%. The Zambian government has recently been granting licenses to international resource companies to prospect for minerals such as nickel, tin, copper and uranium. It is hoped that nickel will take over from copper as the country’s top metallic export. In 2009, Zambia has been badly hit by the world economic crisis.