The economy of Réunion has traditionally been based on agriculture. Sugarcane has been the primary crop for more than a century, and in some years it accounts for 85% of exports. The government has been pushing the development of a tourist industry to relieve high unemployment, which amounts to more than 40% of the labor force.
The gap in Réunion between the well-off and the poor is large and accounts for the persistent social tensions. The outbreak of severe rioting in February 1991 illustrated the seriousness of socioeconomic tensions. However, this gap has been closing in the last 15 years.
In 2007 the GDP per capita of Réunion at nominal exchange rates, not at PPP, was 17,146 euros (US$23,501). However, while this is exceptionally high compared with its neighbors in Madagascar and the African continent, it is only 57% of the 30,140 euros per capita GDP of metropolitan France in 2007. The total GDP of the island was US$18.8 billion in 2007.