The cornerstone of Greenland’s economy is the fishing and fishing industry, which accounts for just over 90 percent of the export value. However, this income is not enough to cover the needs of investment; Greenland is highly dependent on the annual capital transfers from Denmark, which cover just over half of public spending. The average income level of the Greenlanders is relatively high, though not as high as in Denmark, but the cost of living is also high. Many Greenlanders still live on fishing and hunting at self-catering level.
About 1,300 of Greenland’s approximately 28,000 professionals are professional fishermen; another 3,000 are full-time employees in the fishing industry. In addition, a significant part of the workforce in service activities is linked to the fisheries industry. Primarily, shrimp, halibut and salmon are caught. Cod dominated the catches in 1950–83, but has subsequently declined in importance. Shrimp fishing has increased significantly since the mid-1980s, and exports of shrimp – mostly frozen – are now Greenland’s most important source of income. The completely dominant company in the fishing industry is the self-owned Royal Greenland A / S.
Catches of fur animals (mainly seals and foxes) still occur in northern and eastern Greenland. Agriculture and livestock management are conducted to a limited extent on the coast in the southwest. Primarily, grassy plants and vegetables are grown. Sheep were introduced in the early 1900s, and reindeer husbandry also occurs.
Greenland has many known mineral deposits. Previously, cryolite, marble and coal were mined. In the mid-1970s, exports of lead and zinc ore contributed more than half to Greenland’s total export value. In 1989, the proportion had dropped to just over 18 percent, and in 1991 the quitting ceased. There are far-reaching plans to resume mining operations (mainly zinc and gold mining) in western and southern Greenland. Other minerals (nickel, chromium, platinum, copper and iron ore) are present, but have not yet been considered quenchable. Many international companies, mainly American, British and Chinese, have shown great interest in Greenland’s mineral resources. Drilling for oil is ongoing in northern Greenland and in the sea outside eastern Greenland. There is great potential for water energy,
With the exception of fish canning industries, freezer series and smaller shipyards (which are found in the larger towns on the west coast), Greenland’s industry is still of very small size.
Greenland has had deficits in foreign trade for many years. Exports, predominantly from fishing, are mainly to Denmark, China, Japan and the Russian Federation. Imports cover virtually all consumer and investment goods. The most important import goods are machinery, transport equipment and food. Two thirds of imports come from Denmark and the remaining one third primarily from Sweden, Iceland, Germany, Norway and the USA.