Flag of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands country brief

Overview

Situated north of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) comprises 14 islands. Saipan (the capital), Rota, and Tinian are the main islands. The population of CNMI is approximately 54,000.

Political overview

CNMI is a self-governing US territory. The US President is its Head of State. The Head of Government is Governor Eloy Inos (since 20 February 2013).

The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence from the United States. Negotiations to gain territorial status began in 1972. A Covenant to establish a Commonwealth in Political Union with the United States, conferring US citizenship on the islands' residents, was approved by the US Congress in 1975 and came into force on 24 March 1976. The Covenant became fully effective on 4 November 1986. CNMI became self-governing under its own constitution in 1978 with a locally elected governor, lieutenant governor, and legislature.

CNMI has a bicameral legislature consisting of an 18 member House of Representatives and a nine-member Senate. The Governor and Senators serve four-year terms and the Representatives serve for two years.

Under the US Constitution, residents of unincorporated territories such as CNMI do not vote in elections for the US President and Vice President. The Northern Mariana Islands has a non-voting delegate in the US Congress, currently Gregorio Camacho Sablan, who was elected in 2008.

Bilateral relations

Australia's relations with CNMI are cordial.

Australia has no resident representation in CNMI. The Australian Embassy in Pohnpei is responsible for the full range of diplomatic and consular business with CNMI.

Economic overview

CNMI's economy benefits substantially from financial assistance from the United States. Tourism employs about 25 per cent of the work force and accounts for roughly one-fourth of GDP. The agricultural sector consists of cattle farms and small traditional farms producing coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons. Some 20 000 foreign workers, mostly Filipino and Chinese, work and live in CNMI. The CNMI Government is facing serious cash flow problems which have developed following the collapse of the garment industry and a tourism downturn.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to CNMI totalled $1.5 million in 2012 (principally heating and cooling equipment and parts).  

High level visits

February 2011: Then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles, visited CNMI.