The Dominican Republic has the second largest economy in the Caribbean and Central American region. It is an upper middle-income developing country primarily dependent on agriculture, trade, and services, especially tourism. Although the service sector has recently overtaken agriculture as the leading employer of Dominicans (due principally to growth in tourism and Free Trade Zones), fuge remains the most important sector in terms of domestic consumption and is in second place (behind mining) in terms of export earnings. Tourism accounts for more than $1 billion in annual earnings. Free Trade Zone earnings and tourism are the fastest-growing export sectors. According to a 1999 International Monetary Fund report, remittances from Dominican Americans, are estimated to be about $1.5 billion per year. Most of these funds are used to cover basic household needs such as shelter, food, clothing, health care and education. Secondarily, remittances have financed small businesses and other productive activities.
The Dominican Republic's most important trading partner is the United States (75% of export revenues). Other markets include Canada, Western Europe, and Japan. The country exports free-trade-zone manufactured products (garments, medical devices, etc.), nickel, sugar, coffee, cacao, and tobacco. It imports petroleum, industrial raw materials, capital goods, and foodstuffs. On September 5, 2005, the Dominican Congress ratified a free trade agreement with the U.S. and five Central American countries, known as CAFTA-DR. The CAFTA-DR agreement entered into force for the Dominican Republic on March 1, 2007. The total stock of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Dominican Republic as of 2006 was U.S. $3.3 billion, much of it directed to the energy and tourism sectors, to free trade zones, and to the telecommunications sector. Remittances were close to $2.7 billion in 2006.
An important aspect of the Dominican economy is the Free Trade Zone industry (FTZ), which made up U.S. $4.55 billion in Dominican exports for 2006 (70% of total exports). Reports show, however, that the FTZs lost approximately 60,000 between 2005 and 2007 and suffered a 4% decrease in total exports in 2006. The textiles sector experienced an approximate 17% drop in exports due in part to the appreciation of the Dominican peso against the dollar, Asian competition following expiration of the quotas of the Multi-Fiber Arrangement, and a government-mandated increase in salaries, which should have occurred in 2005 but was postponed to January 2006. Lost Dominican business was captured by firms in Central America and Asia. The tobacco, jewelry, medical, and pharmaceutical sectors in the FTZs all reported increases for 2006, which somewhat offset textile and garment losses. Industry experts from the FTZs expect that entry into force of the CAFTA-DR agreement will promote substantial growth in the FTZ sector for 2007.
An ongoing concern in the Dominican Republic is the inability of participants in the electricity sector to establish financial viability for the system. Three regional electricity distribution systems were privatized in 1998 via sale of 50% of shares to foreign operators; the Mejía administration repurchased all foreign-owned shares in two of these systems in late 2003. The third, serving the eastern provinces, is operated by U.S. concerns and is 50% U.S.-owned. The World Bank records that electricity distribution losses for 2005 totaled about 38.2%, a rate of losses exceeded in only three other countries. Industry experts estimate distribution losses for 2006 will surpass 40%, primarily due to low collection rates, theft, infrastructure problems and corruption. At the close of 2006, the government had exceeded its budget for electricity subsidies, spending close to U.S. $650 million. The government plans to continue providing subsidies. Congress passed a law in 2007 that criminalizes the act of stealing electricity, but it has not yet been fully implemented. The electricity sector is a highly politicized sector and with 2008 presidential election campaigning already in motion, the prospect of further effective reforms of the electricity sector is poor. Debts in the sector, including government debt, amount to more than U.S. $500 million. Some generating companies are under capitalized and at times unable to purchase adequate fuel supplies. 
Full article ▸