France also uses a large number of metallic minerals in its industrial economy. The country still has small deposits of several of these minerals, but centuries of mining have largely depleted its reserves, and France today imports most metals.
Several regions once had small deposits of iron ore, the basis of the iron and steel industry, but nearly all French production now comes from Lorraine, in the northeast. Among the nations of Western Europe only Sweden produces more iron ore, but France must still import nearly half of the iron ore that it needs for industry, chiefly from Brazil, Sweden, Mauritania, Australia, and Liberia.
France is the fourth leading Western European producer of bauxite, or aluminum ore, and only Germany produces more finished aluminum. The French must import nearly all their supplies of copper, lead, zinc, tin, and other industrial metals, but many of the refining and processing industries for these metals are in France.
Mining long has been an important source of employment in France, especially for the major coal and iron ore districts in the north and east. However, mining employment has declined steadily in recent years as coal has lost its dominant position. Iron ore production has decreased as the iron and steel industry has faced difficult times, and all mining activities have turned increasingly toward automation.