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 Croatias economy recovered moderately. However, corruption, cronyism, and a general lack of transparency stymied meaningful economic reform, as well as much-needed foreign investment.
Croatias economy grew strongly in the 2000s, 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. One downside to these steadily improving trends was a strong growth in Croatia’s stock of foreign debt, which by 2010 had reached almost 100% of GDP.
Despite the gains, substantial challenges remain. Croatia’s economy was hit hard by the global financial crisis, and has recovered more slowly than many of its neighbors. The country experienced a drop from 2.4% GDP growth in 2008 to a 5.8% contraction in 2009. GDP fell a further 1.2% in 2010 (about $62.25 billion), while 2011 saw approximately 0.7% growth. Official unemployment is 17.9%. Croatias external imbalances and high foreign debt present long-term risks to its economic well-being, as continued access to foreign credit may be severely limited. An inefficient bureaucracy, relatively high labor costs, and lack of transparency in taxes, fees, and the public tender process have all led to a generally unfavorable climate for foreign investment. The new government intends to eliminate certain non-tax fees on business, consolidate overlapping government agencies, and identify administrative barriers to foreign investment. Improvements to Croatia’s judicial system are not yet fully achieved, another hindrance to economic development.
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 50% of GDP. Some large, state-owned industries continue to rely on government subsidies, crowding out investment in education and technology needed to ensure the economys long-term competitiveness. The government is trying to privatize several state-owned shipyards. As of October 2011, there were signs of progress in this area, but the process had not yet been finalized.