Bhutan: Trade and Investment Profile
Bhutan’s economy, small and less developed, is based largely on hydropower, agriculture, and forestry, which provide the main livelihood for more than half of the population. Because rugged mountains dominate the terrain and make the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive, industrial production is primarily of the cottage industry type. The economy is closely aligned with India’s through strong trade and monetary links and is dependent on India for financial assistance and migrant laborers for development projects, especially for road construction.
Multilateral development organisations administer most educational, social, and environment programs, and take into account the government’s desire to protect the country’s environment and cultural traditions. For example, the government, in its cautious expansion of the tourist sector, encourages visits by upscale, environmentally conscientious tourists. Complicated controls and uncertain policies in areas such as industrial licensing, trade, labor, and finance continue to hamper foreign investment. Bhutan’s largest export – hydropower to India – could spur sustainable growth in the coming years if Bhutan resolves chronic delays in construction.
Bhutan currently taps only 5% of its 30,000-megawatt hydropower potential and is behind schedule in building 12 new hydropower dams with a combined capacity of 10,000 megawatts by 2020 in accordance with a deal signed in 2008 with India. The high volume of imported materials to build hydropower plants has expanded Bhutan’s trade and current account deficits. However, Bhutan and India in April 2014 agreed to begin four additional hydropower projects, which would generate 2,120 megawatts in total. A declining GDP growth rate in each of the past three years in the absence of new hydropower facilities has constrained Bhutan’s ability to institute economic reforms. Bhutan inked a pact in December 2014 to expand duty-free trade with Bangladesh, the only trade partner with which Bhutan enjoys a surplus.
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