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United States of America

Flag of United States of America

United States of America country brief

Political overview

System of government

The United States is a liberal democracy with a federal political structure comprising 50 states and the District of Columbia. The federal government is characterised by a separation of powers between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The constituent states have significant powers of self-government.

The executive is headed by the President, who is elected every four years through a national contest by universal suffrage. The election is held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November every fourth year. Although more than 100 million Americans have voted in each of the last five presidential elections, the President is not directly elected by the people. Under the Electoral College system, each state is represented by 'Electors' whose number is equal to that state's congressional delegation (one for each member of the House of Representatives plus two Senators). In 48 of the 50 states (Maine and Nebraska are the exceptions) as well as the District of Columbia, a 'winner takes all' system awards all of a state's electors to the winning presidential candidate. In the nationwide election, a candidate that receives a majority of 270 or more Electoral College votes out of the total 538 is elected President.

The legislature, known as the Congress, consists of 535 voting members divided between two chambers: the 100-member Senate and the 435-member House of Representatives. Each state is represented by two Senators who serve six-year terms. Representatives in the House are elected from single-member constituencies and serve two-year terms. Additionally, in the House of Representatives there are five non-voting delegates who represent a US territory (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands) and the District of Columbia, as well as one non-voting Resident Commissioner representing Puerto Rico. Congress has sole powers to appropriate financial outlays, and operates through a committee system. Legislation must be approved by a majority in both chambers, then signed by the President, to become law. The President can veto legislation, but a veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

The Supreme Court is the highest judiciary body in the United States and leads the judicial branch of the federal government. It consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. There is no term limit for justices, who serve after nomination by the President and confirmation in the Senate. The Court is the highest tribunal in the nation for the laws of the United States and all matters arising under the Constitution. It has the authority to invalidate legislation or executive actions which it deems to be unconstitutional.

Political parties

The United States has two broad party coalitions, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The Democratic Party evolved from the party of Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s. The Republican Party was formed by a coalition opposed to slavery led by Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. Today, both parties encompass a variety of views.

Elected in November 2020, Joseph Biden is the 46th President of the United States of America. His first term expires on 20 January 2025, and he will be eligible to run for a second term as President in the 2024 US Presidential Election. President Biden succeeded Donald Trump, who finished his term as President on 20 January 2021.

Following November 2020 congressional elections, the 117th US Congress was sworn in on 3 January 2021. The Democratic Party retained a majority in the House of Representatives and regained an effective majority in the Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote.

Bilateral relations overview

In 2018, Australia and the United States marked a centenary of mateship – a friendship first formed in the trenches of World War I during the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918. The two countries maintain a strong relationship, characterised by cultural similarities and robust bilateral arrangements. There are strong formal structures of cooperation between Australia and the United States spanning foreign policy, defence and security, intelligence, development, energy, environment, education, law, trade and investment. The Australia-United States Alliance and the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) are central to the bilateral relationship, which also benefits from widespread collaboration across government, academia, and business.

Australia and the United States established diplomatic relations on 8 January 1940. Following the establishment of Australian and US Legations in March and July 1940 respectively, the White House announced the elevation of the Legations to Embassy status on 9 July 1946. Australia's first Ambassador to the United States, Norman J O Makin, presented his credentials to the US Government on 11 September 1946. The first US Ambassador to Australia, Robert Butler, presented his credentials on 25 September 1946.

Defence and security overview

A central pillar of relations between Australia and the United States is the 'ANZUS' Treaty, which was originally an agreement between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. The ANZUS Treaty was signed by the parties in San Francisco in 1951 and entered into force in 1952. The ANZUS Treaty underpins the Australia-United States Alliance. It binds Australia and the United States to consult on mutual threats, and, in accordance with our respective constitutional processes, to act to meet common dangers. Australia invoked the ANZUS Treaty for the first time on 14 September 2001 in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

The Alliance is the foundation of defence and security cooperation between Australia and the United States. It increases Australia's ability to protect itself and its interests by providing access to world-leading defence hardware and technologies, training courses and combined exercises, as well as vital intelligence capabilities. In facilitating such cooperation, the Alliance supports regional engagement, security and stability, underpinning prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. It also enables joint efforts against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Both countries are committed to working together to help shape international norms to advance vital shared interests in the sea, air and outer space, as well as to advance important matters related to cybersecurity. Further information about the defence relationship is available on the Australian Department of Defence website.

The Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) are held between foreign and defence ministers on a regular basis. AUSMIN was last held on 28 July 2020, with then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper hosting Foreign Minister Marise Payne and then-Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in Washington DC. The Secretaries and Ministers noted a number of initiatives at AUSMIN 2020 through which the people of the United States and Australia, close friends and partners for more than a century, will work together to build a secure, prosperous future. Outcomes from AUSMIN 2020 are outlined in the Joint Statement.

In addition to AUSMIN, senior officials regularly meet with US counterparts on a broad range of issues including political-military meetings and military-military talks.

Trade, investment and economic overview

The United States is the world's largest economy. US GDP (nominal) was US$20,807 billion at the end of 2020. The United States is a major driver of the global economy and a world leader in terms of international trade and investment, innovation and new technologies, research and development expenditure, stock market capitalisation and its share of large global corporations. Information about the US economy and economic outlook is widely available and constantly updated. The latest official economic indicators are available at the US Census Bureau, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The US market comprises 50 states and one federal district. The country includes a range of markets with distinct regional characteristics. It is the world's fourth largest country in terms of geographic area and spans six time zones.

Although the United States operates foreign investment restrictions in some sectors of the economy (airline ownership, telecommunications, and radio services), foreign investors are generally treated on an equal footing with domestic business. There are no restrictions on moving capital in or out of the United States (or between states) or on the repatriation of profits. A protocol amending the double taxation convention for Australia and the United States entered into force on July 2003. The agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America to Improve International Tax Compliance and to Implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) entered into force on 30 June 2014.

The United States is our largest two-way investment partner, with two-way investment stock reaching $1.8 trillion in 2020. The United States is by far the largest investor in Australia, with investment stock worth $929.4 billion at the end of 2020. Two-way trade stood at A$72.9 billion in 2020.

The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) entered into force on 1 January 2005. Upon AUSFTA's entry into force, more than 97 per cent of Australia's non-agricultural exports to the United States (excluding textiles and clothing) became duty free and two-thirds of agricultural tariff lines went to zero. 96.1 per cent of all Australian exports are now tariff-free. Under AUSFTA, for the first time, Australian companies also have access to the federal government procurement market in the United States and the government procurement markets of 31 US states.

Australia and the United States have a shared record of working together closely to promote global trade liberalisation for over 50 years. Australia and the United States worked closely in establishing the G20, and work together in global and regional trade and economic fora, including the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Tourism, culture and education overview

In 2020 there were 235,500 short-term resident departures from Australia to the United States, a 77.7 per cent decrease from the previous year. Over the same period, 188,700 US visitors arrived in Australia, the fourth largest source of international visitors to Australia. US visitors spent $2.2 billion in Australia in the year ending September 2020.  

In 2019, more than 11,900 US students were studying at Australian education institutions.

Australian culture, from Indigenous art to Australian films, continues to stimulate interest in the United States. The annual G'Day USA program showcases all things Australian from trade and investment, food and wine, film, arts, fashion and lifestyle, to Indigenous culture and tourism.

A growing number of Australians in the entertainment industry are taking on starring and supporting roles on American movie and television screens with many winning awards. Australian creativity and expertise is being harnessed behind the scenes in areas such as cinematography and special effects. The cultural scene across the United States is enriched by Australian dancers, musicians, authors and artists.

People-to-people links overview

Australia and the United States enjoy strong people-to-people links based on common values and our deep historical and cultural bonds. The relationship is characterised by a very high flow of people in both directions (including tourists, students, long-term professional workers, temporary business travellers and working holiday makers). According to Australia's 2016 Census, there were over 86,000 US-born residents in Australia, with another 64,000 Australians that claim US ancestry.

Australians can apply for E-3 visas to work in the United States. Australia also has a Work and Holiday visa arrangement with the United States, further strengthening our strong relationship and people-to-people links. The working holiday visa allows eligible Australians to stay and work for 12 months in the United States.

In October 2002, the Australian and US Governments signed a bilateral social security agreement to provide improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and the United States. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the requirement to provide American social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in the United States.

The United States Studies Centre (USSC) was co-founded by the University of Sydney and the Australian American Association and supported with a federal government grant of $25 million in 2006. In November 2012, then-US Secretary of State Clinton opened the Perth USAsia Centre, a partner organisation to the USSC, at the University of Western Australia. In 2018, the Australian Government announced an additional $12 million in funding for these Centres. These Centres collaborate to help deepen Australian knowledge and understanding of the United States and strengthen the underlying links between people and institutions in the two countries.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sponsors a Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Australia–US Alliance Studies. The Australian-American Fulbright Commission administers the scholarship, which aims to further develop our bilateral ties through the study of contemporary issues of interest to both alliance partners.

The Australian American Leadership Dialogue is a bipartisan annual private initiative between Australia and the United States. The Dialogue brings together leaders from business, government, media and the community from both countries to exchange views on the bilateral relationship.

High level visits

Recent visits to the United States

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, travelled to the United States in May 2021.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women Marise Payne, then-Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds, then-US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and then-US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met in Washington DC on 28 July 2020 for the 30th Australia-US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN). The Ministers and Secretaries set a path for the Australia-US Alliance to support regional recovery from COVID-19 and to build a secure, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific.

The Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, travelled to the United States in September 2019 at then-President Trump's invitation for an official visit, including a State Dinner at the White House.

Then-Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, visited the United States in January 2019.

Recent visits to Australia

Then-Vice President Michael Pence visited Australia in November 2018.

Then-Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and then- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visited Australia in July 2019 for AUSMIN.

President Biden visited Australia in his capacity as Vice President in 2016.

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