Flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Republic of the Marshall Islands country brief

Overview

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 55,000. RMI's capital is Majuro.

Political overview

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 the United States

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 Defence, 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.

Bilateral relations

Australia was the second country, after the US, to establish diplomatic relations in 1987. Australia and RMI enjoy a close bilateral relationship supported by shared regional interests, particularly ensuring maritime and transnational security, sustainable management of fisheries and a common interest in supporting economic and human development.  The Australian Embassy in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia is responsible for Australian affairs in RMI.

Development assistance

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.

The RMI is a climatically vulnerable country with heavily populated low-lying atolls which are increasingly susceptible to natural disasters such as tidal surges, droughts and cyclonic storms. The primary focus of Australia’s aid to RMI in 2014-15 will be on improving access to clean, potable water and sanitation to help address water-borne and water-related diseases. Australia will also provide support for greater resilience to natural disasters, building on Australia’s responses to inundations in 2014 and a severe drought in RMI’s northern atolls in 2013.

In collaboration with the Asian Development Bank, Australia will also support an enhanced economic reform programme in RMI, which will promote increased economic self-reliance. In 2014 and 2015, working with Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), Australia will also support the implementation of the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Initiative country plan for the Marshall Islands, with a focus on reducing gender-based violence

Australia provided RMI one Pacific patrol boat and continues to support it through the bilateral Defence Cooperation Program.

Australia Awards

Australia Awards delivered under the Australian aid program are an important component of the Australian Government's overseas aid program.   Our North Pacific program has two types of Australia Awards on offer: the Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships and the Australia Awards Leadership Program.

Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships provide opportunities to study at selected education institutions in the Pacific region.

The Australia Awards Leadership Program are scholarships for postgraduate study in Australia.

For more information see the Australia Awards website

Volunteers

The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes.

See the AVID website for more information.

Direct Aid Program (DAP) and Small Grant Scheme (SGS)

The DAP and SGS support projects which directly contribute to the welfare and the income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Visit the Australian Embassy website for further information on DAP and SGS.

Economic overview

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.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to RMI in 2013 totalled $4.6 million (mainly meat prepared or preserved and wheat flour).

High level visits

December 2012: Then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles, visited RMI.