Iceland - Economic development

The national government and some local governments are involved in trawler fishing, herring processing, merchant shipping, electric power facilities, and certain other industries. To a considerable degree, the central government supervises the export-import trade and the fishing and fish-processing industries. It may set uniform prices of export commodities and may shift export and import trade to specific countries as balance-of-payments considerations require. It channels investment funds into fields it considers desirable.

The government supports farmers in the rebuilding or enlarging of their homes, livestock sheds, and barns, and assists them in the purchase of machinery. Equipped with crawler tractors and excavators, a government agency helps farmers enlarge cultivated areas and break, drain, and level new lands for the establishment of homesteads. Thousands of new acres have thus been brought under cultivation.

The government fixes prices of essential foods and other basic consumption items and subsidizes them, both to limit prices for the consumer and to maintain farm incomes. It also fixes markups that manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and importers may place on a wide variety of products.

In the early 1990s, the government concentrated on maintaining the value of the króna by bringing down inflation, even at the cost of economic growth. Wage gains were restricted. In late 1992, plans were made public for a Fisheries Development Fund that would buy and scrap unneeded vessels and thereby promote efficiency. The Fund would also be used to help firms establish joint ventures abroad and buy fishing rights. Plans were also under way to sell several state-owned companies, with the money used for research and development and reducing the deficit. Entry into the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1994 and the Uruguay Round brought increased trade liberalization and foreign investment. The country experienced rapid economic growth during the late 1990s, but high domestic spending led to a widening current account deficit that peaked at 10% of GDP in 2000.

The economy went into recession in 2001, and inflation rose. The government tightened monetary and fiscal policy that brought inflation down, but GDP growth remained negative in 2002. The government adopted a floating exchange rate for the króna in March 2001. Gross external debt amounted to 130% of GDP at the end of 2002. The government is looking to diversify exports, which is expected to stabilize the economy.

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