Bhutan was a predominantly subsistence agrarian country until the 1960s. At present, agriculture continues to be the main source of livelihood for about 79 percent of the people living in the rural areas. The agriculture sector, which includes livestock rearing and horticulture, contributes to 37 percent of GDP. Agriculture based on traditional methods takes precedence over farm mechanization and modern methods. The major crops grown by Bhutanese farmers include rice, wheat, maize and potatoes. Apples, mandarin and cardamom are some of the main cash crops grown for the export market, namely India and Bangladesh. Over the decades, planned socio-economic development has bought about significant changes in the Bhutanese economy. Bhutan has recently applied to become a member of the World Trade Organization. Major exports are hydroelectric power, horticulture products, wood based products and minerals. Consumer goods and essentials like rice, salt, petrol and kerosene make up part of its imports. The country has the potential to generate an estimated 30,000 MW of electricity. Tapping this resource contributes to 30 percent of GDP. Chukha Hydropower Project, the first of its kind in the country, generates 336 MW of which 78 percent is exported to India. More recent projects are expected to raise national revenue significantly.
The Manufacturing sector contributes to 14 percent of GDP with products such as Calcium Carbide, Ferro Silicon, cement, processed food, and wood based industries in the establishment of more energy intensive industries in the future is expected to facilitate the growth of this sector.
Tourism is the greatest source of hard currency. Although the number of visitors to the country is not restricted, it is regulated by the high tariff on tourists in keeping with the government’s policy of preserving culture and cautious modernization. Even though there is many niche markets such as eco-tourism and cultural tourism that offer significant growth potential and are consistent with other development objectives, these niches are yet to be explored to their full potential.
As Bhutan’s major trading partner India is market to 90 percent of its exports and source for 70 percent of its imports. The Bhutanese currency Ngultrum is pegged at parity to the Indian Rupee, and the two countries have a free trade agreement. Bhutan also enjoys a preferential trade agreement with Bangladesh.