Republic of the Marshall Islands country brief
The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is located in the Micronesia region north of Nauru and Kiribati in the North Pacific Ocean. It comprises five islands and 29 atolls and has a population of 63 000. RMI's capital is Majuro.
RMI is an independent country in a Compact of Free Association with the United States. RMI has a semi-Westminster style constitution, adopted in 1979, with a Nitijela (Parliament) comprising 33 members, elected every four years by universal suffrage. While there are no formal political parties in RMI, there are two political groupings, the Aelon Kein AD (AKA) and United Democratic Party (UDP). The President is elected from the Nitijela and appoints a cabinet from its members. There is also an advisory council of High Chiefs – the Council of Iroij.
Following general elections in November 2011, the Nitijela elected Christopher Loeak as President in January 2012.
Compact of Free Association with US
After more than a decade of negotiation, RMI and the United States signed a Compact of Free Association in 1983. It was subsequently approved in a UN-observed plebiscite. The US Congress added several amendments which were accepted by RMI, and the compact entered into force in 1986. From 1999-2003, the two nations negotiated an amended compact that entered into force in 2004. Under the amended compact, the United States will give RMI at least US$57 million every year until 2023, including contributions to a jointly managed trust fund. Under the compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defence of RMI which is obliged to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with this. RMI has full control of all other domestic and foreign policy and RMI citizens have access to favourable provisions for travelling to and working in the United States. The compact and its subsidiary agreements commit the US to provide, at no cost to RMI, many services including air safety, weather prediction, health services and assistance in the event of natural disasters until the end of the compact. Under the compact, more than 40 US government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, US Postal Service, the Small Business Administration and USAID operate programs or render assistance to RMI.
The US Department of Defense, under a subsidiary government-to-government agreement of the compact, has use of the lagoon and several islands on Kwajalein Atoll. The atoll consists of approximately 90 islets around the largest lagoon in the world. The agreement allows the United States continued use of the US Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) missile test range until 2066 (with an option until 2086) at a cost of US$2.3 billion. Another subsidiary agreement of the compact provided for settlement of claims arising from the US nuclear tests conducted at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls from 1946 to 1958.
The RMI economy is dependent on revenue from the United States under the compact, with over 80 per cent of government revenue being derived directly, or indirectly, from US grants. The Government is the major employer, followed by the commercial and retail sectors. The construction industry is expanding but there is limited domestic production – fisheries, copra, handicrafts and subsistence agriculture being the most significant sectors.
Australia has friendly relations with RMI. Australia was the second country, after the US, to establish diplomatic relations in 1987. The former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, visited RMI in February 2011, in May 2012 for the Forum Trade Ministers Meeting and most recently in December 2012.
In August 2010, RMI and Australian foreign ministers signed a Pacific Partnership for Development. Priority outcomes of this partnership focus on developing affordable, accessible and sustainable energy, water and sanitation. Australia's official development assistance budget to RMI is $4.2 million in 2012-13, including $500,000 for the design of a multi-year water and sanitation program on Ebeye. This assistance is focused on providing scholarships, technical assistance and the small grant scheme which provides support to community organisations and scholarships. Further information can be found on the AusAID website.
Australia has provided RMI one Pacific Patrol Boat and continues to support its maritime surveillance through assistance with a bilateral Defence Cooperation Program.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Australian merchandise exports to RMI in 2011-12 totalled $3.7 million (mainly primary ethylene polymers, alcoholic beverages and medicaments). Australia's merchandise imports from RMI in the same period totalled $1.1 million (principally pig iron).
Australians travelling to RMI are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.
Updated February 2013