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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 judicial branches. The constituent states have significant powers of self-government.

The Executive is headed by the President, who is elected every four years in nationwide polls. 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 candidate who garners the most votes in the state. 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 body in 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 by 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 broad spectrum of views.

Elected in November 2020, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. 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 the November 2022 congressional elections, the 118th US Congress was sworn in on 3 January 2023. The Republican Party won a thin majority in the House of Representatives and the Democratic Party retained a majority in the Senate.

Bilateral relations overview

Australia and the United States 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, climate, environment, education, law, trade and investment. The Australia-United States Alliance – as enunciated in the ANZUS Treaty – 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.

The Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) are held between foreign and defence ministers on a regular basis. AUSMIN was last held on 29 July 2023 with Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles hosting Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in Brisbane. The Secretaries and Ministers announced a number of initiatives at AUSMIN 2023 through which the people of Australia and the United States, are committed to working together to shape an Indo-Pacific which is open, stable, prosperous, and respectful of sovereignty. Outcomes from AUSMIN 2023 are outlined in the Joint Statement.

In addition to AUSMIN, senior government officials regularly meet to discuss issues spanning the breadth of the bilateral relationship.

The two nations also work side-by-side through a number of minilateral strategic partnerships, including the Quad (with Japan and India), and with Japan through the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.

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. 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. More than 70 years on from the ANZUS Treaty's signing, the United States is Australia's vital security ally and our closest global partner. It increases Australia's ability to protect itself and its interests by providing access to world-leading defence capability and technologies, training 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 evolving the Alliance in response to the deteriorating security landscape. Further information about the defence relationship is available on the Australian Department of Defence website.

On 15 September 2021 Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States announced an enhanced security partnership, known as ‘AUKUS'. Building on longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties, AUKUS promotes the sharing of information and technologies and collaboration on advanced capabilities. Australia's acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine capability is the first major initiative under AUKUS.

Trade, investment and economic overview

The United States is the world's largest economy. US GDP (nominal) was USD$25.5 trillion at the end of 2022. 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. 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.

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 few restrictions on moving capital in or out of the United States (or between states) or on the repatriation of profits. Australia is one of a small number of countries whose investors can qualify for exemptions from mandatory notification requirements under US national security laws and regulations. A protocol amending the double taxation convention for Australia and the United States entered into force in 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 $2.2 trillion in 2022. The United States is by far the largest investor in Australia, with investment stock worth $1.09 billion at the end of 2022. The United States is our largest foreign investment destination, with outbound investments reaching $1.073 trillion in 2022.The United States is our third largest trading partner and two-way trade stood at $87.3 billion in 2022.

The Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) entered into force on 1 January 2005. On entry 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. As a result of AUSFTA, Australian companies have access to the United States' federal government procurement market 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. 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 2021 there were 101,540 short-term resident departures from Australia to the United States. Over the same period, 91,000 US visitors arrived in Australia, the fifth largest source of international visitors to Australia. US visitors spent AUD$1.7 billion in Australia in the year ending June 2023 (fifth largest spending by visitors in Australia).

Australian culture, from Indigenous art to Australian TV and 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 roles on American movie and television screens. 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

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 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 2021 Census, there were over 101,000 US-born residents in Australia. 64,000 Australians also claim US ancestry (2016 Census).

Australians can apply for a variety of visas to work in the United States, including E-3 visas which are available only to Australian workers and their families. 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 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.

High level visits

Recent visits to the United States

  • Attorney‑General Mark Dreyfus visited Washington D.C in January 2024.
  • Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy visited Washington D.C in December 2023.
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited San Francisco in November 2023 for the APEC Leaders' Meeting.
  • Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell visited San Francisco in November 2023 for the APEC Economic Leaders Week.
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles visited Washington D.C in November 2023.
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited Washington D.C. in October 2023 for an official visit to the United States.
  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited San Diego in March 2023.
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong visited New York in September 2023 and Washington D.C. in December 2022.
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles visited Washington D.C. in December 2022 and July 2022.
  • Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell visited Detroit in May 2023 and Washington D.C., New York and Los Angeles in August 2022.
  • Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen visited New York, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. in September 2022.
  • Minister for Home Affairs Clare O'Neil visited Washington D.C. in September 2022.

Recent visits to Australia

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin visited Brisbane for the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in July 2023.
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