The economy of Namibia is heavily dependent on the extraction and processing of minerals for export. Mining accounts for 20% of GDP. Rich alluvial diamond deposits make Namibia a primary source for gem-quality diamonds. Namibia is the fourth-largest exporter of nonfuel minerals in Africa, the world's fifth-largest producer of uranium, and the producer of large quantities of lead, zinc, tin, silver, and tungsten. The mining sector employs only about 3% of the population while about half of the population depends on subsistence agriculture for its livelihood. Namibia normally imports about 50% of its cereal requirements; in drought years food shortages are a major problem in rural areas. A high per capita GDP, relative to the region, hides the great inequality of income distribution; nearly one-third of Namibians had annual incomes of less than $1400 in constant 1994 dollars, according to a 1993 study. The Namibian economy is closely linked to South Africa with the Namibian dollar pegged to the South African rand. Privatisation of several enterprises in coming years may stimulate long-run foreign investment, although with the trade union movement opposed, so far most politicians have been reluctant to advance the issue.
The Namibian economy has a modern market sector, which produces most of the country's wealth, and a traditional subsistence sector. Although the majority of the population engages in subsistence agriculture and herding, Namibia has more than 200,000 skilled workers, as well as a small, well-trained professional and managerial class.
The country's sophisticated formal economy is based on capital-intensive industry and farming. However, Namibia's economy is heavily dependent on the earnings generated from primary commodity exports in a few vital sectors, including minerals, especially diamonds, livestock, and fish. Furthermore, the Namibian economy remains integrated with the economy of South Africa, as the bulk of Namibia's imports originate there.
Since independence, the Namibian Government has pursued free-market economic principles designed to promote commercial development and job creation to bring disadvantaged Namibians into the economic mainstream. To facilitate this goal, the government has actively courted donor assistance and foreign investment. The liberal Foreign Investment Act of 1990 provides guarantees against nationalisation, freedom to remit capital and profits, currency convertibility, and a process for settling disputes equitably. Namibia also is addressing the sensitive issue of agrarian land reform in a pragmatic manner.
In September 1993, Namibia introduced its own currency, the Namibia dollar, which is linked to the South African Rand. There has been widespread acceptance of the Namibia dollar throughout the country and, while Namibia remains a part of the Common Monetary Area, it now enjoys slightly more flexibility in monetary policy although interest rates have so far always moved very closely in line with the South African rates.
Given its small domestic market but favourable location and a superb transport and communications base, Namibia is a leading advocate of regional economic integration. In addition to its membership in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Namibia presently belongs to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) with South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Within SACU, no tariffs exist on goods produced in and moving among the member countries.
Ninety percent of Namibia's imports originate in South Africa, and many Namibian exports are destined for the South African market or transit that country. Namibia's exports consist mainly of diamonds and other minerals, fish products, beef and meat products, karakul sheep pelts, and light manufactures. In recent years, Namibia has accounted for about 5% of total SACU exports, and a slightly higher percentage of imports.
Namibia is seeking to diversify its trading relationships away from its heavy dependence on South African goods and services. Europe has become a leading market for Namibian fish and meat, while mining concerns in Namibia have purchased heavy equipment and machinery from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. The Government of Namibia is making efforts to take advantage of the American-led African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which will provide preferential access to American markets for a long list of products. In the short term, Namibia is likely to see growth in the apparel manufacturing industry as a result of AGOA.
In 1993, Namibia became a signatory of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signatory, and the Minister of Trade and Industry represented Namibia at the Marrakech signing of the Uruguay Round Agreement in April 1994 . Namibia also is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and has acceded to the European Union's Lomé Convention.