Economy of NicaraguaEconomy - overview: Nicaragua is one of the hemisphere's poorest countries, with low per capita income, flagging socio-economic indicators, and huge external debt. The country has made significant progress toward macro-economic stabilization over the past few years - even with the damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in the fall of 1998. International aid, debt relief, and continued foreign investment have contributed to the stabilization process. GDP grew 6.3% in 1999, while inflation remained about 12%, and unemployment dropped. Nicaragua may qualify for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, though aid is conditioned on improving governability, the openness of government financial operations, poverty alleviation, and human rights.
Nicaragua began free market reforms in 1991 after 12 years of economic free-fall under the Sandinista regime. Despite some setbacks, it has made dramatic progress: privatizing more than 350 state enterprises, reducing inflation from 13,500% to 8%, and cutting the foreign debt in half. The economy began expanding in 1994 and grew 2.5% in 2001, with overall GDP reaching $2.44 million 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.
Nicaragua remains the second-poorest nation in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of less than $500--below where it stood before the Sandinista takeover in 1979. Unemployment is officially around 11%, and another 36% 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. 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. Rapid expansion of the tourist industry has made it the nation's third-largest source of foreign exchange. Some 60,000 Americans visit Nicaragua yearly--primarily business people, tourists, and those visiting relatives. An estimated 5,300 U.S. citizens reside in the country. The U.S. embassy's consular section provides a full range of consular services--from passport replacement and veteran's assistance to prison visitation and repatriation assistance.
Nicaragua faces a number of challenges in stimulating rapid economic growth. Long-term success at attracting investment, creating jobs, and reducing poverty depend on its ability to comply with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, resolve the thousands of Sandinista-era property confiscation cases, and open its 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 will be 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 U.S. is the country's largest trading partner by far--the source of 25% of Nicaragua's imports and the destination of 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.
The U.S. embassy's Economic/Commercial Section advances American economic and business interests by briefing U.S. firms on opportunities and stumbling blocks to trade and investment in Nicaragua; encouraging key Nicaraguan decisionmakers to work with American firms; helping to resolve problems that affect U.S. commercial interests; and working to change local economic and trade ground rules in order to afford U.S. firms a level playing field on which to compete.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $12.5 billion (1999 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 6.3% (1999 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $2,650 (1999 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
services: 44% (1998)
Population below poverty line: 50% (1999 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 1.6%
highest 10%: 39.8% (1993)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 12% (1999 est.)
Labor force: 1.7 million (1999)
Labor force - by occupation: services 43%, agriculture 42%, industry 15% (1999 est.)
Unemployment rate: 10.5% (1999 est.); considerable underemployment
revenues: $527 million
expenditures: $617 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (1998 est.)
Industrial production growth rate: 3.2% (1998 est.)
Electricity - production: 2.714 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 53.43%
other: 11.23% (1998)
Electricity - consumption: 2.52 billion kWh (1998)
Electricity - exports: 99 million kWh (1998)
Electricity - imports: 95 million kWh (1998)
Exports: $573 million (f.o.b., 1998 est.)
Imports: $1.5 billion (c.i.f., 1999 est.)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, raw materials, petroleum products, consumer goods
Debt - external: $5.7 billion (1999 est.)
Economic aid - recipient: pledges of $1.4 billion in new aid in 1999
Currency: 1 gold cordoba (C$) = 100 centavos
Exchange rates: gold cordobas (C$) per US$1 - 12.29 (December 1999),11.81 (1999), 10.58 (1998), 9.45 (1997), 8.44 (1996), 7.55 (1995)
Fiscal year: calendar year