Following World War II, rapid industrialization and diversification occurred within Croatia. Decentralization came in 1965, allowing growth of certain sectors, particularly the tourist industry. Profits from Croatian industry were used to develop poorer regions in the former Yugoslavia. This, coupled with austerity programs and hyperinflation in the 1980s, contributed to discontent in Croatia.
Privatization and the drive toward a market economy had barely begun under the new Croatian Government when war broke out in 1991. As a result of the war, the economic infrastructure sustained massive damage, particularly the revenue-rich tourism industry. From 1989 to 1993, GDP fell 40.5%. With the end of the war in 1995, tourism and Croatia's economy recovered moderately. However, corruption, cronyism, and a general lack of transparency stymied meaningful economic reform, as well as much-needed foreign investment.
Croatia's economy turned the corner in 2000 as tourism rebounded. The economy expanded by 5.6% in 2002, stimulated by a credit boom led by newly privatized and foreign-capitalized banks, some capital investment (most importantly road construction), further growth in tourism, and gains by small and medium-sized private enterprises. These trends continued, with credit growth fueling strong demand in construction and services, resulting in 4.8% GDP growth in 2006. Unemployment, although still high, began a steady decline over this period that has continued to the present day. Croatia also benefited from macroeconomic stability over the past several years with a stable exchange rate, low inflation, and shrinking government deficits. The start of European Union accession talks in 2005 and the prospect of NATO membership also helped attract higher levels of foreign investment.
Despite these gains, however, substantial challenges remain, particularly in reforming the judicial system and reducing corruption. The privatization process, begun in the 1990s, has been unsteady, largely as a result of public mistrust engendered when many state-owned companies were sold to the politically well-connected at below-market prices. The government sold three large metals plants in early 2007, but the Croatian state still controls a significant part of the economy, with government spending accounting for as much as 40% of GDP. Some large, state-owned industries, such as the country's shipyards, continue to rely on government subsidies, crowding out investment in education and technology needed to ensure the economy's long-term competitiveness.
Croatia has so far weathered the global financial crisis reasonably well, but faces significant challenges in 2009. GDP is forecast to contract 5%, largely due to an expected downturn in Croatia's top export commodity, tourism, and sharp decreases in consumer spending. Croatia's external imbalances and high foreign debt present risks as well, as continued access to foreign credit may be severely limited.
Information by U.S. Department of State
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