The economy of Liechtenstein is based roughly equally on services (especially financial services) and industry, with a small but significant agricultural sector. The country participates in a customs union with Switzerland and uses the Swiss franc as its national currency. It imports more than 85% of its energy requirements. Liechtenstein has been a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) since 1991 (previously its interests had been represented by Switzerland). It is also a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) since May 1995 and participates in the Schengen Agreement for passport-free intra-European travel. The government is working to harmonize its economic policies with those of the European Union.
Since the signing of the Customs Treaty in 1919, Liechtenstein and Switzerland have represented one mutual economic area. Therefore, the borders between those states are open. The country also uses the Swiss franc as its national currency, and Swiss customs officers secure its border with Austria. Currently there are 21 Swiss border guards stationed in Liechtenstein and 20 Austrian border guards securing its border (as of 2011).
Liechtenstein is a member of EFTA, and joined the European Economic Area (EEA) in 1995 in order to benefit from the EU internal market. The capitalist economy and tax system make Liechtenstein a safe, trustworthy, and success-oriented place for private and business purposes, especially with its highly modern, internationally laid-out infrastructure and nearby connections to the whole world.
The Principality of Liechtenstein has gone through economic and cultural development in the last 40 years like no other Western country. In this short period, Liechtenstein developed from a mainly agricultural state to one of the most highly industrialized countries in the world.
Besides its efficient industry, there also is a strong services sector. Four out of 10 employees work in the services sector, a relatively high proportion of whom are foreigners, including those who commute across the border from the neighboring states of Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Industrial exports more than doubled in 20 years from $1.21 billion (SFr. 2.2 billion) in 1988 to $2.9 billion (SFr. 4.6 billion) in 2008. Some 15.7% of Liechtenstein goods are exported to Switzerland, 62.6% to the EU, and 21.1% to the rest of the world. Liechtenstein imports more than 85% of its energy requirements from the Swiss, while it produces only 15% of its energy requirements.
For the last 2 years, the United States has been the most important export market for Liechtenstein, totaling $561 million (SFr. 876 million); Germany is second, with $479 million (SFr. 748 million) worth of imports, and Switzerland third, with $375 million (SFr. 587 million). France and Italy were able to maintain their positions, while Austria and the United Kingdom have been overtaken by Taiwan and Japan.
About 32% of the country's revenues are invested in research and development, one of the driving forces of the success of Liechtenstein's economy. Total R&D spending in 2000 rose by 20.7% to approximately $140 million (213 million francees).
The Principality of Liechtenstein also is known as an important financial centre, primarily because it specializes in financial services for foreign entities. The country's low tax rate, loose incorporation and corporate governance rules, and traditions of strict bank secrecy have contributed significantly to the ability of financial intermediaries in Liechtenstein to attract funds from outside the country's borders. The same factors made the country attractive and vulnerable to money launderers, although late 2009 legislation has strengthened regulatory oversight of illicit funds transfers.
Liechtenstein has chartered 17 banks, three non-bank financial companies, and 71 public investment companies, as well as insurance and reinsurance companies. Its 270 licensed fiduciary companies and 81 lawyers serve as nominees for, or manage, more than 73,000 entities (primarily corporations, institutions, or trusts), partly for non-Liechtenstein residents. About one-third of these entities hold the controlling interest in other entities, chartered in countries other than Liechtenstein. The Principality's laws permit the corporations it charters to issue bearer shares. Until recently, the Principality's banking laws permitted banks to issue numbered accounts, but new regulations require strict know-your-customer practices for all accounts.
The principal industries are electronics, metal manufacturing, textiles, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, food products, precision instruments, and tourism.