Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Historically strongly dependent on its sugar exports, Mauritius diversified its economy in the 1980s, through expanding its industrial base. The economy is thoroughly monetized. The majority of the adult population is engaged in wagework, the principal sources of employment being the manufacturing industry, the sugar industry, tourism, and the civil service. Subsistence activities include horticulture and fishing. Mauritius is a net importer of food, the staple being rice. Mauritius has developed the rudiments of a welfare state, which include old-age pensions and unemployment benefits.
Industrial Arts. Sugar, molasses, tea, knitwear, and other miscellaneous clothing are the main industrial products. Horticultural products (especially orchids and other flowers), handicrafts (made of wood, sharks' teeth, and seashells), and various industrial products are marketed domestically and internationally. Instruments of production that are produced locally include fishing nets, fish traps, and some machinery for the sugar and textile industries.
Trade. Petroleum products are imported from Persian Gulf countries; rice is imported from Madagascar and India, raw materials for the textile industry are imported from India and Europe; and advanced machinery is imported from Australia, South Africa, Japan, and Europe. The main export markets are Europe (particularly the United Kingdom and France) for sugar products, tea, knitwear, and other textiles. Other export markets, particularly for textiles, include the United States and South Africa. Tourism attracts Europeans. Exports in 1989 were U.S. $550 million; imports were U.S. $540 million (figures are estimates). The external debt in 1986 was U.S. $644 million.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, the Mauritian division of labor has been strongly ethnic in character, and this is still so to some extent. Most field laborers are Hindus and Muslims; most fishermen, dockers, and artisans are Creoles; most petty merchants are Sino-Mauritian; and the estate owners are Franco-Mauritian. Because of changes in the economic infrastructure, the current pattern is more ambiguous. The workforce in the manufacturing industry is multiethnic and largely female. The Hindus are overrepresented in the civil service, while the Creoles are overrepresented in the police force. Many of the lawyers, teachers, and journalists are Mulattoes. Two conflicting principles for recruitment to the labour market are applied. On the one hand, Mauritius is formally a meritocracy where educational attainment and relevant experience are criteria for employment. On the other hand, ethnicity, kinship and informal social relations are also frequently used as criteria for employment.
Land Tenure. More than 50 percent of the total surface of Mauritius is cultivated. Over most of this area sugarcane is grown; on the central plateau, tea is grown. Fifty-five percent of the cane lands are run by twenty sugar estates. One is state-owned, while the remaining nineteen are owned by Franco-Mauritian families. The remaining 45 percent of the cane land is shared by 33,000 small planters, most of them Hindus and Muslims. Much of the land (but not that owned by the estates) is Crown land, and the cultivator must pay rent to the state. In many villages, Creole and Hindu families grow vegetables and fruit for sale on private or rented plots.