New Caledonia country brief

Overview

New Caledonia is a French overseas territory with a significant amount of autonomy under the terms of the 1998 Noumea Accord. It comprises the main island of Grande Terre (where the capital, Noumea, is situated), the four Loyalty Islands (Ouvea, Lifou, Tiga and Maré), the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and some remote islands.

Just under 300,000 people live in New Caledonia (2016). Approximately 44 per cent are indigenous (‘Kanak’). The remainder are Caledonians of European, Polynesian and other (including Vietnamese, Indonesian and Algerian) origins.

Political overview

New Caledonians are French citizens with the right to live anywhere in France. They are entitled to vote in territorial and French national elections.

The President of the French Republic is New Caledonia’s Head of State and is represented in New Caledonia by a High Commissioner, currently Thierry Lataste.

The Noumea Accord (1998) and consequent Organic Law (May 1999) provide the constitutional framework under which New Caledonia is governed. The Accord also defines New Caledonia's relations with France and sets out a timetable for New Caledonia to assume responsibility for most areas of government.

Congress is mandated to (if agreed to by a three-fifths majority) set the date for up to three referenda on whether New Caledonia should assume the final sovereign powers (justice, public order, defence, monetary and foreign affairs) and become fully independent. If a date has not been proposed by Congress by 2018 then the Noumea Accord commits France to conduct the first referendum.

Under the Noumea Accord, the Government of New Caledonia comprises representatives of all major political groupings. There are three provincial assemblies, (elected under a proportional representation process with five year terms) — Southern (40 members), Northern (22 members) and Islands provinces (14 members). Fifty-four (from the 76) members of the Provincial Assemblies then become the New Caledonian Congress which in turn elects an executive government of between five and 11 members (from both assembly members and non-members), and is responsible to the Congress.

The Noumea Accord provides for an Economic and Social Council and a Customary Senate comprising representatives from each of New Caledonia's eight customary areas to advise the Government. Both the Government and the French State must consult the Customary Senate on subjects relating to Kanak identity.

The most recent provincial election was held in New Caledonia on 11 May 2014. Pro-France parties secured 29 of the 54 seats and have a majority. The coalition that formed government dissolved in December 2014 resulting in that government falling. Following three months of caretaker government, Philippe Germain was appointed President of the Government of New Caledonia on 2 April 2015. The next election is scheduled for 2019.

As provided for in the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia and France now share responsibility for New Caledonia's regional relations, allowing New Caledonia to join some regional organisations in its own right. In 2016, New Caledonia was granted full membership of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). New Caledonia is a long-standing member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), which has its headquarters in Noumea.

Economic overview

New Caledonia has a long-established nickel industry and around one-quarter of the world's known nickel deposits. Nickel prices have fallen dramatically over the past few years and this has had a major effect on exports and government revenue. The fall in exports has resulted in the Government of New Caledonia encouraging diversification of potential exports.

Financial transfers from France are also an important source of income in New Caledonia — amounting to some $1.5 billion per annum (14 per cent of GDP). Most of this covers expenditure on education and other public service salaries, social security contributions and pensions. The remainder goes to targeted development projects, particularly in the Northern and Islands Provinces.

New Caledonians enjoy a GDP per capita higher than most other Pacific Island countries (GDP per capita in 2016 totaled $US30,666. There is a significant disparity in wealth distribution, with high cost of living partly owing to heavy market protection.

Foreign relations

New Caledonia has close ties with its neighbours, particularly Vanuatu where it has had a cooperation agreement since 2002. The Government of New Caledonia also has a representative to New Zealand based out of the French Embassy in Wellington.

Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand and Vanuatu each have a diplomatic presence in New Caledonia through their respective Consulates-General.

New Caledonia is a member of the Pacific Community (SPC), the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO). New Caledonia is also an associate member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie and has a non-voting seat on the World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Committee.

The Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) is a member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

In 2016 leaders decided to admit New Caledonia as a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Bilateral relations

Australia is represented in New Caledonia by a Consul-General based in Noumea.

Relations between Australia and New Caledonia are broad and historic, extending across a range of domains. In 2015, Australia celebrated its 75th anniversary of Australian diplomatic representation in New Caledonia.

Australian and New Caledonia share much in common, foremost our interest in stability in the Pacific region.

Australia has interests in working with the New Caledonian and French authorities in New Caledonia in a range of areas including promoting greater trade and investment; cooperating on regional and natural disaster relief; defence cooperation including visits and joint exercises; combating security threats and transnational crime.

Australia supports the Noumea Accord process to determine New Caledonia's future governance including for increasing autonomy and integration in the Pacific region.

People-to-people links

Australians and New Caledonians have forged longstanding and enduring people-to people links across business, education, defence, police cooperation and healthcare.

Tourism links are growing with more than 400,000 Australians visiting New Caledonia each year on cruise boats. Australia remains the primary destination for New Caledonians, particularly the Gold Coast.

Australians and New Caledonians have longstanding and enduring links in the education sector. Australia awarded more than 100 Australia Awards Scholarships to New Caledonian students over two decades as part of a broader program supporting tertiary study in Australia. Although New Caledonian students are no longer eligible for Australia Award scholarships given New Caledonia’s non-eligibility as an aid recipient, they can participate in the Australia Awards- Endeavour Awards scholarships program.

In September 2015, a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between France, New Caledonia and Australia to support the introduction of an Australian studies section in the French Baccalaureate International Option (OIB). A pilot Australian studies course for the OIB commenced in 2017 and is being trialled at two greater Noumea schools.

Trade and investment

Australia is New Caledonia’s 11th most important export destination and 6th most important source of imports. There were an estimated 1,700 Australian companies doing business with New Caledonia. In 2016, Australian merchandise exports to New Caledonia totaled $343 million (mostly coal and civil engineering equipment and parts). New Caledonia’s exports to Australia were valued at $30 million (a steep fall from $147 million the previous year) with trailers, semi-trailers and containers passing nickel ores and concentrates as the largest components. Total Australian services trade (tourism and education) with New Caledonia was valued at $205 million in 2016.

Two-way investment in 2016 was valued at $396 million with $358 million of that representing New Caledonian investment in Australia.

The Australia Pacific Islands Business Council organises an annual Australia New Caledonia Business Forum to explore and promote business opportunities. The most recent forum was held on 14 October 2016 in Brisbane. It will be hosted in Noumea in the second half of 2017.

Information on doing business and opportunities in New Caledonia

High level visits and meetings

  • July 2017: Visit by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific
  • October 2016: Working visit by Philippe Germain, President of the Government of New Caledonia to Australia.
  • November 2015: Visit by the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
  • September 2015: Visit by the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, Minister for Education and Training to Noumea, New Caledonia.
  • July 2015: President Philippe Germain attended the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Sydney.
Last Updated: 10 August 2017