Catalonia, a Spanish economic heavyweight

Emmanuelle MICHEL
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With its capital Barcelona and Costa Brava beaches, Catalonia attracts more foreign tourists than any other Spanish region

The escalating crisis over Catalonia's declaration of independence from Spain has raised economic fears for one of the country's richest regions.

Here are some key facts about money and business in Catalonia -- a powerhouse of the Spanish economy.

- A rich region -

Catalonia rivals Madrid as the richest region in the country.

It contributed 19 percent of Spain's GDP in 2016. It has the fourth highest GDP per capita of Spain's 17 regions.

Unemployment is below the national average at 13.2 percent in the second quarter of 2017.

Spain's economy ministry says that if Catalonia broke away its GDP would fall by a quarter and unemployment would double.

Separatists say Catalonia would be fiscally better off if it no longer had to pay taxes to Madrid.

- Top exporter -

Catalonia is by far Spain's top exporting region: it accounted for a quarter of the country's exports last year.

It attracted about 14 percent of Spain's foreign investment in 2015, second only to Madrid.

It has big food, chemical and logistics sectors. With Nissan and Seat (Volkswagen) factories, it was Spain's second-biggest car producer in 2016.

But over 800 companies have shifted their legal headquarters out of Catalonia because of the crisis, including Spain's third-largest bank CaixaBank.

- Cutting edge of science -

Since the 1990s Catalonia has invested heavily in research, particularly biosciences such as genetics, neurosciences and cell biology.

It has cutting-edge hospitals and research centres, including a particle accelerator. It says it is number one in Europe for pharmaceutical companies per capita.

Of the top five Spanish universities in the annual ranking compiled by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, three are Catalan.

- Tourist magnet -

With its capital Barcelona and Costa Brava beaches, Catalonia attracts more foreign tourists than any other Spanish region.

More than 18 million visitors came last year -- a quarter of all Spain's foreign tourists.

Tourist activity in Catalonia fell 15 percent in the first two weeks of October because of the independence crisis, industry lobby group Exceltur said.

Hotel reservations through the end of the year are down by around 20 percent, it added.

- Debt mountain -

Catalonia was the third most indebted region in Spain in the second quarter of 2017.

At some 77 billion euros ($90 billion), its debt represents 35 percent of its GDP.

Ratings agencies have given it a low "speculative" credit grade, making it dependent on loans from Spain's central government.