Following the end of the war and the defeat of the Sandinistas in the 1990 general election, Nicaragua began free market reforms, privatizing more than 350 state enterprises. Since then, inflation has been reduced from 33,603% to 8%, and the government's foreign debt has been cut in half. The economy began expanding in 1991 and grew 2.5% in 2001. In 2001, the global recession, combined with a series of bank failures, low coffee prices, and a drought, caused the economy to retract.
Unemployment is officially 3.8% (2006 est.), and another 46.5% (2006 est.) are underemployed. Nicaragua suffers from persistent trade and budget deficits and a high debt-service burden, leaving it highly dependent on foreign assistance--as much as 25% of GDP in 2001.
One of the key engines of economic growth has been production for export. Exports were 640 million in 2001. Although traditional products such as coffee, meat, and sugar continued to lead the list of Nicaraguan exports, the fastest growth is now in nontraditional exports: maquila goods (apparel); gold; seafood; and new agricultural products such as peanuts, sesame, melons, and onions. In 2007 Daniel Ortega managed exports to top 1 billion dollars for the first time in Nicaraguan history during his first 100 days as president. Nicaragua also depends heavily on remittances from Nicaraguans living abroad.
Nicaragua is primarily an agricultural country, but construction, mining, fisheries, and general commerce also have been expanding during the last few years. Foreign private capital inflows topped $300 million in 1999 but, due to economic and political uncertainty, fell to less than $100 million in 2001. In the last 12 years tourism has grown 394%, the rapid growth has led it to become Nicaragua's second largest source of foreign capital. Less than three years ago, the nation’s tourism budget was U.S. $400,000; today, it is over $2 million. Nicaragua's economy has also produced a construction boom, the majority of which is in and around Managua.
Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. An International Monetary Fund (IMF) program is currently being followed, with the aim of attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty by opening the economy to foreign trade. This process was boosted in late 2000 when Nicaragua reached the decision point under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative. However, HIPC benefits were delayed because Nicaragua subsequently fell "off track" from its IMF program. The country also has been grappling with a string of bank failures that began in August 2000. Moreover, Nicaragua continues to lose international reserves due to its growing fiscal deficits.
The country is still a recovering economy and it continues to implement further reforms, on which aid from the IMF is conditional. In 2005, finance ministers of the leading eight industrialized nations (G8) agreed to forgive some of Nicaragua's foreign debt, as part of the HIPC program. According to the World Bank Nicaragua's GDP was around $4.9 US billion dollars. Recently, in March 2007, Poland and Nicaragua signed an agreement to write off 30.6 million dollars which was borrowed by the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.
The U.S. is the country's largest trading partner, providing 25% of Nicaragua's imports and receiving about 60% of its exports. About 25 wholly or partly owned subsidiaries of U.S. companies operate in Nicaragua. The largest of those investments are in the energy, communications, manufacturing, fisheries, and shrimp farming sectors. Good opportunities exist for further investments in those same sectors, as well as in tourism, mining, franchising, and the distribution of imported consumer, manufacturing, and agricultural goods. There also are copper mines in northeastern Nicaragua.
|Food and agriculture|
|Groundnuts in Shell||30|
|Indigenous Horse Meat||30|
|1Source: FAO (2005) Major Food and Agricultural Commodities and Producers|
From the end of World War II to the early 1960s, the growth and diversification of the agricultural sector drove the nation's economic expansion. From the early 1960s until the increased fighting in 1977 caused by the Sandinista revolution, agriculture remained a robust and significant part of the economy, although its growth slowed somewhat in comparison with the previous postwar decades. Statistics for the next fifteen years, however, show stagnation and then a drop in agricultural production.
The agricultural sector declined precipitously in the 1980s. Until the late 1970s, Nicaragua's agricultural export system generated 40 percent of the country's GDP, 60 percent of national employment, and 80 percent of foreign exchange earnings. Throughout the 1980s, the Contras destroyed or disrupted coffee harvests as well as other key income-generating crops. Private industry stopped investing in agriculture because of uncertain returns. Land was taken out of production of export crops to expand plantings of basic grain. Many coffee plants succumbed to disease.
In 1989, the fifth successive year of decline, farm production declined by roughly 7 percent in comparison with the previous year. Production of basic grains fell as a result of Hurricane Joan in 1988 and a drought in 1989. By 1990 agricultural exports had declined to less than half the level of 1978. The only bright spot was the production of nontraditional export crops such as sesame, tobacco, and African palm oil.
Tourism in Nicaragua is one of the most important industries in the country. It is the second largest source of foreign exchange for the country and is predicted to become the first largest industry in 2007. The growth in tourism has positively affected the agricultural, commercial, finance, and construction industries as well.
Industrial production growth rate: 2.4% (2005 est.)
Electricity - production: 2.778 billion kWh (2006)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 53.43%; hydro: 35.34%; nuclear: 0%; other: 11.23% (1998)
Electricity - consumption: 2.929 billion kWh (2006)
Electricity - exports: 69.34 million kWh (2006)
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2006)
Imports - commodities: consumer goods, machinery and equipment, raw materials, petroleum products
Currency: 1 gold Cordoba (C$) = 100 centavos
Exchange rates: gold Cordoba (C$) per US$1 - 17.582 (2006), 16.733 (2005), 15.937 (2004), 15.105 (2003), 14.251 (2002)