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World > North America > Bahamas, The > Economy (Notes)

Bahamas, The - Economy (Notes)


ECONOMY
The Bahamas is driven by tourism and financial services. Tourism provides an estimated 40% of the gross domestic product (GDP), with an additional 10% of GDP resulting from tourist-driven construction. Tourism employs about half the Bahamian work force. In 2005, more than 5 million tourists visited The Bahamas, 87% from the United States. There are about 110 U.S.-affiliated businesses operating in The Bahamas, and most are associated with tourism and banking. With few domestic resources and little industry, The Bahamas imports nearly all its food and manufactured goods from the United States. American goods and services tend to be favored by Bahamians due to cultural similarities and heavy exposure to American advertising. The Bahamian economy, due to its heavy dependence on U.S. tourism and trade, is deeply affected by U.S. economic performance.

Following economic struggles in 2001-2002 fueled by a drop in tourism after September 11, 2001, The Bahamas has enjoyed a period of economic recovery and an upturn in large-scale private sector investments in tourism, which will boost construction and provide long-term employment. Future goals include continued development of tourism properties, including increased Bahamian ownership, redevelopment of the Grand Bahama economy following major hurricane losses in 2004, and the expansion of the robust Bahamian financial sector.

Economic challenges facing The Bahamas include meeting continued employment demands, jumpstarting a lagging privatization process, and monitoring increasing levels of government debt. Another major challenge for Bahamians will be to prepare for hemispheric free trade. Currently, Bahamians do not pay income or sales taxes. Most government revenue is derived from high tariffs and import fees. Reduction of trade barriers will probably require some form of taxation to replace revenues when the country becomes a part of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). As evident by domestic opposition to the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), the advantages of free trade may be hard for the government to sell.

Two major hotel projects promise to increase economic growth and create short- and long-term employment. The Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island is in the third phase of a billion-dollar expansion expected to create 3,000 new jobs. A second hotel resort development project costing nearly $2 billion is planned for the Cable Beach area of Nassau. The Baha Mar Company has negotiated purchase of three major hotels and a development site, including the last assets of the state-owned Hotel Corporation. As a condition of these large-scale investments, the government promises to expand Nassau International Airport and has turned over management to private operators. The Bahamian Government also has adopted a proactive approach to courting foreign investors and has conducted major investment missions to the Far East, Europe, Latin America, India and Canada. The government continues to pay particular attention to China to encourage tourism and investment. For their part, the Chinese are funding the construction of a new $30 million sports stadium in New Providence. While the new FNM government has expressed a desire to increase Bahamian ownership interests in developments, The Bahamas' dependence on foreign investment is unlikely to change.

Financial services constitute the second-most important sector of the Bahamian economy, accounting for up to 15% of GDP, due to the country's status as a tax haven and offshore banking center. As of 2005, the government had licensed 262 banks and trust companies in The Bahamas. The Bahamas promulgated the International Business Companies (IBC) Act in January 1990 to enhance the country's status as a leading financial center. The act served to simplify and reduce the cost of incorporating offshore companies in The Bahamas. Within 9 years, more than 84,000 IBC-type companies had been established. In February 1991, the government also legalized the establishment of Asset Protection Trusts in The Bahamas. In 2000, in response to multilateral organizations' concerns, the government passed a legislative package of stronger measures to better regulate the financial sector and prevent money laundering in the country's banking sector, including creation of a Financial Intelligence Unit and enforcement of 'know-your-customer' rules. Some of these measures have been challenged in Bahamian courts, and the number of offshore banks registered in The Bahamas has declined substantially since 2002. As many as half of the IBCs have also closed shop. As a result, the government is considering additional legislation to keep the industry competitive while complying with international standards, including possible reform of the regulatory structure.

Agriculture and fisheries together account for 3% of GDP. The Bahamas exports lobster and some fish but does not raise these items commercially. There is no large-scale agriculture, and most agricultural products are consumed domestically. Following an outbreak of citrus canker on Abaco in 2005, The Bahamas lost a main agricultural export, and the Ministry of Agriculture banned the export of plant materials from Abaco. The Bahamas imports more than $250 million in foodstuffs per year, representing about 80% of its food consumption.

The Bahamian Government maintains the value of the Bahamian dollar on a par with the U.S. dollar. The Bahamas is a beneficiary of the U.S.-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), Canada's CARIBCAN program, and the European Union's Lome IV Agreement. Although The Bahamas participates in the political aspects of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), it has not entered into joint economic initiatives, like the CSME, with other Caribbean states.

The Bahamas has a few notable industrial firms: the Freeport pharmaceutical firm, PFC Bahamas (formerly Syntex); the BORCO oil facility, also in Freeport, which transships oil in the region; the Commonwealth Brewery in Nassau, which produces Heineken, Guinness, and Kalik beers; and Bacardi Corp., which distills rum in Nassau for shipment to U.S. and European markets. Other industries include sun-dried sea salt in Great Inagua, a wet dock facility in Freeport for repair of cruise ships, and mining of aragonite--a type of limestone with several industrial uses--from the sea floor at Ocean Cay.

The Hawksbill Creek Agreement established a duty-free zone in Freeport, The Bahamas' second-largest city, with a nearby industrial park to encourage foreign industrial investment. The Hong Kong-based firm Hutchison Whampoa operates the container port in Freeport. The Bahamian Parliament approved legislation in 1993 that extended most Freeport tax and duty exemptions through 2054.

Business Environment
The Bahamas offers attractive features to the potential investor: a stable democratic environment, relief from personal and corporate income taxes, timely repatriation of corporate profits, proximity to the United States with extensive air and telecommunications links, and a good pool of skilled professional workers. The Government of The Bahamas welcomes foreign investment in tourism and banking and has declared an interest in agricultural and industrial investments to generate local employment, particularly in white-collar or skilled jobs. Despite its interest in foreign investment to diversify the economy, the Bahamian Government responds to local concerns about foreign competition and tends to protect Bahamian business and labor interests. As a result of domestic resistance to foreign investment and high labor costs, growth can stagnate in sectors which the government wishes to diversify.

The country's infrastructure is best developed in the principal cities of Nassau and Freeport, where there are relatively good paved roads and international airports. Electricity is generally reliable, although many businesses have their own backup generators. In Nassau, there are three daily newspapers, several weeklies, and international newspapers available for sale. There also are six radio stations. Both Nassau and Freeport have a television station. Cable TV and satellite also are available locally and provide most American programs with some Canadian and European channels.

Areas of Opportunity
The best U.S. export opportunities remain in the traditional areas of foodstuffs and manufactured goods: vehicles and automobile parts; hotel, restaurant, and medical supplies; and computers and electronics. Bahamian tastes in consumer products roughly parallel those in the United States. Merchants in southern Florida have found it profitable to advertise in Bahamian publications. Most imports are subject to high but nondiscriminatory tariffs.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Bahamian Dollar Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Bahamian Dollar Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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