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Vanuatu, Economy

Vanuatu flag, shipping registry, Air Vanuatu, Luganville, subsistence agriculture

In 2000 Vanuatu had an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $211.6 million. Agriculture dominates the country’s economy at both the subsistence and commercial levels. About 80 percent of the people engage primarily in subsistence agriculture. Food crops include yams, taro, cassava, and bananas. Livestock raising and small-scale fishing provide nearly all of the beef, pork, poultry, and fish consumed in Vanuatu. Agricultural activities also generate most of the country’s major exports, including copra (dried meat of the coconut), beef, cocoa, and coffee. The forestry industry, which is controlled to prevent overlogging, provides timber, the other important export. Agriculture and forestry also supply Vanuatu’s manufacturing industries, which include food processing and canning and wood processing.

Although agriculture employs the majority of Vanuatu’s workforce, the services sector—especially tourism and offshore banking—provides the majority of GDP. Although Vanuatu’s government originally discouraged tourism beyond Efate in an effort to preserve isolated island cultures, the desire to spread the tourism industry’s economic benefits more widely has led in recent years to an increase in rural and village-based tourism. Other sources of revenue in Vanuatu include a shipping registry, which allows foreign merchant ships to operate under the Vanuatu flag to profit from the country’s less restrictive regulations, and the licensing of foreign vessels to fish in surrounding waters. The possibility of reopening manganese-mining operations on Efate holds further economic potential.

The value of Vanuatu’s imports typically outweighs the value of its exports by several times. Principal imports include machinery and vehicles, manufactured goods, and mineral fuels. Sources for Vanuatu’s imports include Japan, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, France, and the Fiji Islands, while the principal purchasers of its exports are Japan, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The national unit of currency in Vanuatu is the vatu (137.6 vatu equal U.S.$1; 2000 average).

Air Vanuatu and several other airlines provide international service from Vanuatu’s main airport, located near Port-Vila. Several shipping lines provide frequent service to Port-Vila and Luganville, and small vessels shuttle among the islands. There are some paved roads on Efate, but mostly unimproved roads elsewhere. Vanuatu has two weekly newspapers, one published by the government and one privately owned. The government operates the only radio and television stations. Radio Vanuatu broadcasts in the three official languages. Many television programs are imported from New Zealand and France. International telephone service is available in Port-Vila and Luganville.

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