Turks and Caicos profile - Overview
- 28 January 2015
- From the section Latin America & Caribbean
The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory, enjoys one of the more dynamic economies in the West Indies.
Tourism and offshore finance have replaced salt production as the main sources of prosperity for the low-lying islands and cays.
The British government imposed direct rule in August 2009 after a commission of inquiry found evidence of widespread corruption among the ruling elite.
Thousands of overseas companies are registered in the islands. In 2002 Turks and Caicos was removed from a list of countries and territories considered to be uncooperative tax havens by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which seeks to end harmful tax practices around the globe.
However, by 2009 the islands were still on the OECD's "grey list" of those who say they will comply with rules on sharing tax information but have yet to act.
It was not until the spring of 2012 that the territory was deemed by the OECD to have "substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard". Home rule was restored later that year.
The islands - along with Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat - signed agreements in May 2013 on sharing tax information with Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain as part of an international drive against tax evasion.
Upmarket tourism is centred on Providenciales, nicknamed Provo. Coral reefs and 200 miles of beaches draw holidaymakers and divers, mostly from the US and Canada. But over-development is a concern; some fragile eco-systems, including wetlands and lagoons, are designated as protected areas.
There is little agriculture, though the territory is home to the world's only conch farm. The molluscs are exported.
Independence moves in the 1980s ended when a pro-dependency government was elected. Islanders have British citizenship. The territory enjoys strong links with Canada, and politicians have occasionally mooted a political and economic union.
Once a dependency of Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony on Jamaican independence in 1962. The original inhabitants were Taino indians; later arrivals included slaves, brought from Africa to work on cotton plantations. Their descendants make up a majority of the population.
Wealthy retirees are among the more recent settlers. At the other end of the economic scale, migrants come from impoverished Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In turn, thousands of Turks and Caicos citizens take advantage of job prospects in the neighbouring Bahamas.