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Libya, Economy

Libya was traditionally an agricultural country, although farming was restricted primarily to the coastal regions. Livestock raising was also important. During the Italian colonial period in the first half of the 20th century and the campaigns of World War II (1939-1945), almost all local industry and trade was destroyed. At independence in 1951, Libya was one of the poorest countries in the world. No more than 10 percent of its people could read or write, and there were only a handful of college graduates. The per capita annual income was about $30 a year and the country’s principal export was scrap metal collected from World War II battlefields. The discovery of petroleum in the late 1950s effected a profound change in the economy: The gross domestic product (GDP) increased from $1.5 billion in 1965 to $25.4 billion in 1985, and between 1965 and 1980 the economy grew at an annual average of 4.2 percent. Per capita income skyrocketed to among the highest in the world. Declining petroleum revenues in the 1980s forced cutbacks in development programs, and per capita income declined by at least 25 percent. The economy rebounded in the 1990s, and in 2000 Libya showed its first budget surplus in a decade.

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