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El Salvador - Economy (Notes)

The Salvadoran economy continues to benefit from a commitment to free markets and careful fiscal management. The economy has been growing at a steady and moderate pace since the signing of peace accords in 1992, and poverty has been cut from 66% in 1991 to 35.2 percent in 2005. Much of the improvement in El Salvador's economy is a result of free market policy initiatives carried out by ARENA governments, including the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution and some electrical generation; reduction of import duties; elimination of price controls; and improved enforcement of intellectual property rights. Capping those reforms, on January 1, 2001, the U.S. dollar became legal tender in El Salvador, and the economy is now fully dollarized.

The Salvadoran government has maintained fiscal discipline during post-war reconstruction and reconstruction following earthquakes in 2001 and hurricanes in 1998 and 2005. Taxes levied by the government include a value added tax of 13%, income tax of 20%, excise taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, and import duties. The VAT is the largest source of revenue, accounting for about 55.1% of total tax revenues in 2006. For December of 2007, El Salvador projects a fiscal surplus of 0.6% of GDP. El Salvador's public external debt in May 2007 was about $5.8 billion, 29.9 percent of GDP.

Years of civil war, fought largely in the rural areas, had a devastating impact on agricultural production in El Salvador. A fall in world coffee prices, once a major export earner for El Salvador, has also hurt rural employment. Seeking to develop new growth sectors and employment opportunities, El Salvador created new export industries through fiscal incentives for free trade zones. The largest beneficiary has been the textile and apparel (maquila) sector, which directly provides approximately 70,000 jobs. Services, including retail and financial, have also shown strong employment growth, with about 49.8% of the total labor force now employed in the sector. During the last three years foreign companies have set up 96 new subsidiaries providing 18,000 new jobs, mainly in maquilas, tourism, and telephone call centers.

Remittances from Salvadorans working in the United States are an important source of income for many families in El Salvador. In 2006, the Central Bank estimated that remittances totaled $3.3 billion, and UNDP surveys show that an estimated 22.3 percent of families receive them.

Under its export-led growth strategy launched in 1989, El Salvador has pursued economic integration with its Central American neighbors and negotiated trade agreements with the Dominican Republic, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Taiwan and the United States. The trade agreement with Taiwan will enter into force in 2008. Central America will begin negotiating an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2007. Agreements with Colombia and Canada are under negotiation while agreements with CARICOM and Israel are being considered. Exports in 2006 grew 3.7% while imports grew 11.6%. As in previous years, the large trade deficit was offset by family remittances.

The U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) implemented between El Salvador and the United States on March 1, 2006, provides El Salvador preferential access to U.S. markets. Textiles and apparel, shoes, and processed foods are among the sectors expected to benefit.

In addition to trade benefits, CAFTA-DR also promises to provide a framework for additional reforms on issues such as intellectual property rights, dispute resolution, and customs that will improve El Salvador's investment climate. For sensitive sectors such as agriculture, the agreement includes generous phase-in periods to allow Salvadoran producers an opportunity to become more competitive.

U.S. support for El Salvador's privatization of the electrical and telecommunications markets markedly expanded opportunities for U.S. investment in the country. More than 300 U.S. companies have established either a permanent commercial presence in El Salvador or work through representative offices in the country. The Department of Commerce maintains a Country Commercial Guide for U.S. businesses seeking detailed information on business opportunities in El Salvador.

Natural Disasters
Lying on the Pacific's earthquake-prone Ring of Fire and at latitudes plagued by hurricanes, El Salvador's history is a litany of catastrophe, including the Great Hurricane of 1780 that killed 22,000 in Central America and earthquakes in 1854 and 1917 that devastated El Salvador and destroyed most of the capital city. More recently, an October 1986 earthquake killed 1,400 and seriously damaged the nation's infrastructure; in 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed 10,000 in the region, although El Salvador--lacking a Caribbean coast--suffered less than Honduras and Nicaragua. Major earthquakes in January and February of 2001 took another 1,000 lives and left thousands more homeless and jobless. El Salvador's largest volcano, Santa Ana (also known by its indigenous name Ilamatepec), erupted in October 2005, spewing tons of sulfuric gas, ash, and rock on surrounding communities and coffee plantations and killing two people and permanently displaced 5,000. Also in October 2005, Hurricane Stan unleashed heavy rains that caused flooding throughout El Salvador. In all, the flooding caused 67 deaths, and more than 50,000 people were evacuated at some point during the crisis. Damages from the storm were estimated at $355.6 million.

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

Facts at a Glance
Current Time
Ranking Positions

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

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