The Netherlands has a prosperous and open economy in which the government has reduced its role since the 1980s. Industrial activity is predominantly in food-processing (for example Unilever and Heineken International), chemicals (for example DSM), petroleum refining (for example Royal Dutch Shell), and electrical machinery (for example Philips).
The Netherlands has the 16th largest economy in the world, and ranks 10th in GDP (nominal) per capita. Between 1998 and 2000 annual economic growth (GDP) averaged nearly 4%, well above the European average. Growth slowed considerably in 2001-05 due to the global economic slowdown, but accelerated to 4.1% in the third quarter of 2007. Inflation is 1.3% and is expected to stay low at around 1.5% in the coming years.
Unemployment is at 4.0% of the labour force. By Eurostat standards however, unemployment in the Netherlands is at only 2.9% - the lowest rate of all European Union member states. The Netherlands also has a relatively low GINI coefficient of 0.326. Despite ranking only 10th in GDP per capita, UNICEF ranked the Netherlands 1st in child well-being. On the Index of Economic Freedom Netherlands is the 13th most free market capitalist economy out of 157 surveyed countries.
The Netherlands introduced a single European currency, the euro, in 1999. It is one of the 16 sovereign states that make up the Eurozone. Amsterdam is the financial and business capital of the Netherlands. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX), nowadays part of Euronext, is the world's oldest stock exchange and is one of Europe's largest bourses. It is situated near Dam Square in the city's centre. As a founding member of the euro, the Netherlands replaced (for accounting purposes) its former currency, the "Gulden" (guilder), on 1 January 1999, along with the other adopters of the single European currency. Actual euro coins and banknotes followed on 1 January 2002. One euro is equivalent to 2.20371 Dutch guilders.
The Netherlands' location gives it prime access to markets in the UK and Germany, with the port of Rotterdam being the largest port in Europe. Other important parts of the economy are international trade (Dutch colonialism started with cooperative private enterprises such as the VOC), banking and transport. The Netherlands successfully addressed the issue of public finances and stagnating job growth long before its European partners. Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors.
The country continues to be one of the leading European nations for attracting foreign direct investment and is one of the five largest investors in the US. The economy experienced a slowdown in 2005 but in 2006 recovered to the fastest pace in six years on the back of increased exports and strong investment. The pace of job growth reached 10-year highs in 2007.