September 22, 2007


The Maldives was long a sultanate, first under Dutch and then under British protection. It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence. Since 1978, President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM - currently in his sixth term in office - has dominated the islands' political scene. Following riots in the capital Male in August 2004, the president and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Progress has been slow, however, and many promised reforms have been delayed indefinitely. Tourism and fishing are being developed on the archipelago.

Tourism, Maldives' largest industry, accounts for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of the Maldives' foreign exchange receipts. Over 90% of government tax revenue comes from import duties and tourism-related taxes. Fishing is the second leading sector. Agriculture and manufacturing continue to play a lesser role in the economy, constrained by the limited availability of cultivable land and the shortage of domestic labor. Most staple foods must be imported. Industry, which consists mainly of garment production, boat building, and handicrafts, accounts for about 7% of GDP. The Maldivian Government began an economic reform program in 1989 initially by lifting import quotas and opening some exports to the private sector. Subsequently, it has liberalized regulations to allow more foreign investment. Real GDP growth averaged over 7.5% per year for more than a decade. In late December 2004, a major tsunami left more than 100 dead, 12,000 displaced, and property damage exceeding $300 million. As a result of the tsunami, the GDP contracted by about 3.6% in 2005. A rebound in tourism, post-tsunami reconstruction, and development of new resorts helped boost GDP by about 18 percent in 2006. The trade deficit has expanded sharply as a result of high oil prices and imports of construction material. Diversifying beyond tourism and fishing is the major challenge facing the government. Over the longer term Maldivian authorities worry about the impact of erosion and possible global warming on their low-lying country; 80% of the area is one meter or less above sea level.