The Economy of Antigua

Antigua's economy relies heavily on the tourism industry

Photo credit: © Achim Baqué |

The Economy of Antigua

Today, Antigua's economy is much different than it was during the 17th and 18th centuries. Rather than relying on agriculture, the island's main source of employment now comes from the tourism and government-service industries. Presently, tourism accounts for more than half of the country's gross domestic product.

Early Economics

When the first group of English settlers came to Antigua and Barbuda in 1632, they had a hard time maintaining their colonies because of constant attacks from the French, Dutch, and the Arawak and Carib Indians. After some stability on the islands, early settlers began to grow cash crops of cotton, indigo, tobacco, and ginger to be exported as well as to provide food to live on.

After a few years, the cultivation of sugarcane became a booming business in Antigua, and because this type of farming required large plots of land, the island's rain forests began to disappear. Settlers also took advantage of the availability of timber on Antigua, which used to be the most heavily wooded area in the Eastern Caribbean, to build and repair ships.

Sugarcane production hit an economic high in Antigua with large-scale sugar plantations that were established by Sir Christopher Codrington, who arrived on the island from Barbados. His success in the cultivation of sugarcane inspired other farmers to start producing sugar, and more than 150 sugarcane mills were established on the island's countryside, many of which are still standing today.


After slavery was abolished in 1834, laws were imposed that kept former slaves in other forms of servitude, and emancipation perpetuated British empowerment that was started with the colonial period. Although technically slaves were free, plantation owners still had a constant labor supply.  Even so, sugar plantations eventually faded out of existence in Antigua.

Present Day Economy

Now, Antigua is a member of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, or ECCU, which is a group of nations in the Caribbean that share the same currency and a common bank, which is called the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). In the 20th century, tourism took the place of the sugarcane industry as the principal means of income for Antigua's economy, and it is the main source of employment for those living on the island today.

Agriculture is also important to Antigua's economy, though it can't stand up to the tourism industry. The island's agriculture is primarily focused on the domestic market instead of the export of goods.  Agricultural production on the island consists of the cultivation of cotton, fruits, vegetables, bananas, coconuts, cucumbers, mangoes, sugarcane, and livestock.  The agricultural market in Antigua falls under the constraints of limited fresh water supplies and lack of sufficient labor because most workers are lured to the high-paying tourism industry. Approximately 82 percent of the island's workforce is in commerce and service, while 11 percent work in agriculture.

Though tourism continues to dominate Antigua's economy, the industry has suffered major blows because of hurricanes and the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Tourism has also been weakened by financial sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom, which were a response to Antigua's money-laundering controls. The government has recently been working hard to comply with international demands to get the sanctions lifted.

The Antiguan economy has been gradually rebuilding and becoming more diversified, so it will not be as vulnerable to forces such as violent storms and declines in tourism.  Industries such as transportation and communications are on the rise, allowing the country an opportunity to expand and rely less on industries that are uncertain.  

Over the last several hundred years, Antigua has transformed from a country that built up it's agricultural industry under the constant threat of attack, to one that thrives under the pressure of foreigners invading the island looking for a Caribbean vacation getaway.  The next few years will see Antigua continue to try and diversify, as it works to conquer any financial battles that may arise.


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