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Backgrounds: Cayman Islands Economy
Although Caymanians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, about 90% of the islands' food and consumer goods must be imported.
From the earliest settlement of the Cayman Islands, economic activity was hindered by isolation and a limited natural resource base. The harvesting of sea turtles to resupply passing sailing ships was the first major economic activity on the islands, but local stocks were depleted by the 1790s. Agriculture, while sufficient to support the small early settler population, has always been limited by the scarcity of available land.
The advent of modern transportation and telecommunications in the 1950s led to the emergence of what are now considered the Cayman Islands' "twin pillars" of economic development: international finance and tourism. In 2002, there were more than 40,000 companies registered in the Cayman Islands, including 600 banks and trust companies. Forty-three of the world's largest banks are present in the Cayman Islands.
Tourism represents about 70% of gross domestic product and 75% of total export earnings. Unspoiled beaches, duty-free shopping, scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing draw almost a million visitors to the islands each year.
Education is compulsory to the age of 16 and is free to all Caymanian children. Schools follow the British educational system. Ten primary, one special education, and three high schools are operated by the government. In addition, there is a technical school, a law school, and a community college.
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