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Republic of the Marshall Islands

Flag of Marshall Islands

Republic of the Marshall Islands country brief

Overview

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is located in the western Pacific Ocean, half way between Hawaii and Australia, north of the equator and west of the International Date Line. RMI is an archipelago of 29 atolls, five low coral islands and 1,151 islets that shares maritime borders with the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Nauru. RMI's land mass totals 113 square kilometres spread over an exclusive economic zone of 1.2 million square kilometres. RMI's capital is Majuro. It has a resident population of approximately 53,000 people with an estimated 27,000 Marshallese living in the United States (US).

Political overview

RMI is an independent country in a Compact of Free Association with the US. RMI's constitution was adopted in 1979, with a Nitijela (Parliament) comprising 33 members, elected every four years by universal suffrage (the last election was held in November 2019). Each of RMI's 24 electoral constituencies – one for each inhabited island and atoll – elect one or more representatives (senators) to the Nitijela. Senators elect the President from within the Nitijela. The President is both Head of State and Head of Government. The current and eighth President of RMI is HE David Kabua. A Council of Iroji – comprising twelve tribal chiefs – advises cabinet on customary law and traditional practice.

Compact of Free Association with the United States

RMI's Compact of Free Association (the Compact) with the US provides for RMI's defence, financial assistance and access to US domestic services and its labour market, in exchange for the US having exclusive rights to establish and operate military bases in RMI. The Compact recognises RMI's right to self–government and seeks to promote economic development and budgetary self-reliance: it came into force in 1986 and was renewed in 2003. While the basic relationship of free association continues indefinitely, the bulk of the financial provisions expire in 2023.

Under the amended Compact (and subsidiary agreements), the United States provides RMI with economic assistance including grants, trust fund contributions, settlement of claims arising from a US nuclear testing program (1946-1958), and lease payments for the establishment and operation of military bases in and around Kwajalein Atoll (until 2086).

Bilateral relations

Australia was the second country, after the US, to establish diplomatic relations with RMI (in 1987). Australia and RMI enjoy a close bilateral relationship based on shared regional interests. The Australian Embassy in Majuro opened on 4 May 2021.

Development assistance

Australia's bilateral aid program in RMI has traditionally focused on securing water supply and sanitation services on Ebeye Island, and improving social and economic opportunities for women and girls.

More information on development assistance to the Marshall Islands.

Australia Awards

Australia Awards are an important component of the Australian Government's overseas aid program. Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships provide opportunities for students from RMI to study at selected education institutions in the Pacific region.

For more information see the Australia Awards website.

Volunteers

The Australian Volunteers program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. The Australian Volunteers Program provides opportunities for skilled Australians to contribute to the Australian Government's development cooperation program.

See the Australian Volunteers website for more information.

Direct Aid Program (DAP)

The Direct Aid Program (DAP) is a small grants program funded from Australia's aid budget. It has the flexibility to work with local communities in developing countries on projects that reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development consistent with Australia's national interest.

Visit the Australian Embassy in Federated States of Micronesia website for further information on the DAP.

Economic overview

RMI's economy is dominated by grants and constrained by its small population, vulnerability to external shocks, narrow range of natural resources, aspects of its geography (size, remoteness and dispersal) and the impacts of extreme weather events. External grants, taxation, fishing receipts and shipping registry fees are the key sources of government revenue.

Just under half of RMI government budgeted expenditure in 2019 was directed to education, health and public works. GDP per capita is comparable to the Federated States of Micronesia and significantly less than Palau.

The Government of RMI is the country's 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 are the most significant sectors of the economy. The fishing industry has been boosted by the introduction of the Vessel Day Scheme under the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.

Annual exports are dominated by fish, copra oil, copra cake and handicrafts. Imports are dominated by food, fuel, machinery and equipment.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise trade with RMI in 2018-19 totalled $6.6 million and was dominated by Australian exports (mainly meat, prepared or preserved; footwear, pumps; taps, cocks and valves; and lime, cement & construction materials).

High level visits

  • December 2019: Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone visited RMI to engage in high-level meetings to discuss issues relating to gender equality and gender-based violence.
  • June 2018: Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and their portfolio counterparts, Senator Penny Wong and Senator Claire Moore, visited RMI.
  • May 2017: Former RMI President Hilda Heine visited Australia in May 2017.
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