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Map of Marshall Islands

Map of the Marshall Islands.
flag of the Kingdom of Marshall Island.

Republic of the Marshall Islands

Key facts

Official Name - Republic of the Marshall Islands

Land Area - 180 sq km: 5 islands and 29 atolls; 1,152 islets; 870 reefs

Population - 53,158 (2011 ADB est.)

Major Islands - Majuro, Ebeye and Kwajalein

Capital City - Delap on Majuro Atoll

Language - Marshallese and English (Official)

Currency - US Dollar

EEZ - 2,131,000 sq km


National government - President Christopher J Loeak was elected as the nation's sixth president at the opening of the Parliament on 3 January 2012.

National legislature - The House of Representatives, the Nitijela, has 33 members.

Last election - November 2011

Next election - 21 November 2015

Head of State and Head of Government - President HE Christopher J Loeak

Key ministers - Hon Phillip Muller (MFA)

Last presidential election - 3 January 2012


GDP - US$173.7 million (2011)
DP per capita - US$3,158 (2011)
Real GDP growth - 5% (2011 projection)
Main Exports - Copra, coconut, chilled and frozen fish

New Zealand Trade

NZ Exports - NZ$3.95 million (July 2009)
Main Exports - Wood, aluminium windows
NZ Imports - Zero (July 2009)


Located just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is made up of 1,200 islands, islets and atolls with a land area of 180 square kilometres. The group is spread in two formations, with the eastern groups known as the Ratak ("Sunrise") chain and the Western groups the Ralik ("Sunset") chain. The Marshall Islands have low vulnerability to tsunami, earthquakes and landslides, medium vulnerability to cyclones and droughts and high vulnerability to coastal flooding and inadequate supplies of potable water.


The Marshall Islands spent almost a century under the active administration of foreign powers. In 1885 Germany established a protectorate of the Marshall Islands until the beginning of World War I, when Japan occupied the island group. Japan began formal administration of the islands under a League of Nations mandate in 1920. After 1935, Japan declared the Marshall Islands to be an integral part of the Japanese Empire and established and reinforced military installations there. In 1944, the United States occupied the islands after fierce fighting with the Japanese.

After World War II, the United Nations created the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. The United States entered into a trusteeship with the UN Security Council and became the administering authority of the Marshall Islands (in addition to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and Northern Mariana Islands). The trusteeship made the United States responsible financially and administratively for the region and obligated it to foster the development of political institutions. In addition, the United States was to move the Trust Territory toward self-government and to promote economic, social and education advancement. The agreement also allowed the United States to establish military bases and station forces in the Trust Territory.

The present constitution came into force in 1979, while the United States was still the administering authority under the UN Trust Territory Agreement. The Marshall Islands achieved independence in free association with the United States under a Compact of Free Association in 1986. The compact committed US funding of $250m over 15 years plus a roll-over period.

Negotiations for an amended compact were completed in February 2004, guaranteeing United States funding totalling around US $800m over the next 20 years. The new Compact focuses on several sectors neglected in the past - health and education infrastructure development. Reflecting the United States intention to phase-out its direct funding and encourage budgetary self-reliance, the new Compact established a trust fund, which annual contributions would be made into. It also confirmed the long run use of Kwajalein airbase by the United States.

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Political situation

The House of Representatives, the Nitijela, has 33 members. Elections are held every four years. The President is elected from among members of the Nitijela, and in turn chooses the members of Cabinet. A Council of Traditional Chiefs, the Iroij, advises the President on matters of custom.

There are no formally organised political parties with party headquarters, formal platforms, or party structures in the Marshall Islands and allegiances are relatively fluid. Traditionally, what has existed more closely resembles factions or interest groups. Two 'groups', the Aelon Kein Ad Party and the United Democratic Party (UDP), have competed elections in recent years.


Economic situation

The economy is dominated by the public sector which accounts for almost half of GDP. US Compact grants make up two thirds of government revenue, and that has sheltered the Marshall Islands somewhat from the affects of the Global Economic Crisis -GDP grew by an estimated 1.5% in 2008, driven by a grant-financed increase in public expenditure.

Under the renewed Compact, funds are also allocated to a Trust Fund where it is intended they will build up and eventually provide an alternative source of income for the Marshalls when the Compact expires. This fund was hard hit by the crisis, its value falling from US$93.1 million to US$72.1 million during 2008.

The Marshall Islands has been severely affected by rising food and fuel costs, with the resulting need to manage pressure on its budget.’ Dependency on imported fuel and food has given rise to high inflation rates. Fuel imports claimed almost 20% of the national budget in 2008. Dependency on imported fuel and food led to the highest rate of inflation in the Pacific in 2008, peaking at 29.4% in the third quarter. Public debt remains very high (approximately 65% of GDP) and fuel imports claim a large proportion of the national budget (approximately 20%).

The Marshall Islands has a narrow productive sector, based on copra/coconuts, subsistence farming and fishing. The key export commodity is copra. The tourism industry, which employs less than 10% of the labour force, is the best hope for future foreign exchange earnings. There is a deep and consistent trade deficit which averages around 40% of GDP. GDP growth projections for 2010 remain unchanged at 0.5%.  The ongoing weakness in domestic demand is evident in low import demand.

The Government of the Marshall Islands is looking at options for increasing the productivity sectors of the economy, particularly in fisheries, and at reducing the very high level of government involvement in the economy and reducing government expenditure. The Ministry of Resources and Development is endeavouring to improve the regulatory environment for foreign investment. There are opportunities for the expansion of tourism, especially diving and sport fishing. Other than United States funding, the main source of revenue is tuna fishing licences.

The government is continuing a broad-based public sector reform programme.  Efforts are guided by the recommendations of the Comprehensive Adjustment Program Advisory Group, which identified expenditure rationalisation that could achieve savings of $4.0 to $10.5 million within 3 years, and the Tax and Revenue Reform and Modernisation Commission, which recommended revenue potential.

Actions under the Marshall Energy Company Comprehensive Recovery Program are also leading the reinvigoration of the state-owned enterprise.  The reforms are critical to addressing impediments to private sector-led economic growth arising from weaknesses in the revenue and public expenditure.  (ADB – Pacific Economic Monitor).

In October 2010 the ADB approved a US$14 million package of assistance to the Marshall Islands for public sector reform. US$9.5 million of this loan was to be used to retire commercial debt with the Bank of Guam held by the Marshall Islands Electricity Company. According to the ADB the loan will save MEC US$1.1 in interest payments.
The US Federal Aviation Administration is funding the highest-value construction project in the Marshall Islands – realigning the airport runway, at a cost of approximately US$16 million. It is expected to take 18 months to complete, and began in May this year.



Marshallese society was and for the most part, still is, stratified into three general classes: Iroij (chiefs), Alap (clan heads) and Rijerbal (workers). The Iroij have ultimate control of such things as land tenure, resource use and distribution as well as dispute settlement. The Alap's duties include maintenance of lands and supervision of daily activities. The Rijerbal are responsible for the daily work involved in subsistence, construction, agriculture and fishing. Land is divided into twelve categories, ranging from Imon bwij (land belonging to the whole lineage) to Kitdre (land given by a husband to his wife as a gift). Inheritance is matrilineal.

Over 2,000 years the Marshallese have developed, refined and perfected a number of special skills and technologies as they adapted to their unique environment. Of particular note is the wide range of fishing techniques unmatched by other cultures and brought about by the numerous and diverse fishing environments and an equally wide range of fish species.

Marshallese canoes, or wa, became sophisticated and specialised ranging from small rowing canoes to massive high-speed voyaging canoes. Local refinements developed and refined the asymmetric hull, the lee platform and the pivoting midship mast. Navigation skills matched their shipbuilding skills allowing great sea voyages. They learnt to read the stars, clouds, waves, currents, winds, birds and even the colour of the ocean and journeyed as far as Hawaii to the East, Wake Island to the North and southwards to Kiribati. Over the centuries these great explorers developed and refined navigational stick charts allowing them to understand complex wave and wind patterns in relation to specific islands and atolls.

Marshallese weavings also became famous and are reported by some as to be the best in the Pacific. Fans, baskets, mats and ornaments have won tremendous praise for their unique and highly intricate design.

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Foreign relations

Under the Compact of Free Association, the Marshall Islands conducts its own domestic and foreign policy affairs, although responsibility for defence and security lies with the United States. A key foreign policy issue for the Marshall Islands is the question of further compensation for the islands affected by US nuclear testing. The islands of Rongelap, Bikini, Enewetak, Utrik and Ailuk have lodged claims worth US$2 billion with the Nuclear Claims Tribunal for compensation from the United States for alleged health damage from US nuclear tests carried out from 1946 to 1958. Under a former settlement, the United States has, to date, paid some US$270m in compensation.

The Marshall Islands maintains active relations - principally on aid matters - with Japan, which has an Embassy in Majuro, and with Taiwan, which has an office there.

Environment - International Agreements

Party to: Biodiversity, Desertification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

International Organisation Participation

Asian Development Bank (ADB), Economic & Social Commission for Asia & the Pacific (ESCAP), Group of 77 (G-77), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), United Nations (UN), World Health Organisation (WHO).


Bilateral relationship

New Zealand's relationship with the Marshall Islands is mainly based around our common membership of the Pacific Islands Forum. Areas of common interest with RMI are fisheries, regional trade, climate change, and security issues such as combating terrorism, money laundering and people smuggling. New Zealand's Consul-General Robert Kaiwai in Honolulu is accredited as Ambassador to the Marshall Islands.

A Tax Information Exchange Agreement was signed by our Minister of Foreign Affairs and RMI Foreign Minister in August 2010. This supports RMI’s efforts to incorporate international standards on transparency into its financial sector.

New Zealand Official Development Assistance to Marshall Islands is covered under the New Zealand Aid Programme Sustainable Economic Development and Thematic Group through the economic growth and productive sectors, infrastructure and energy, and human development programmes.  Marshall Islands can also access New Zealand scholarships. There is no bilateral ODA programme.

With no direct shipping links, the trade between New Zealand and the Marshall Islands is modest. There are some opportunities for New Zealand companies, particularly in the construction sector and the export of building materials, food and beverages.

Cultural and business linkages

With no direct shipping links, trade between New Zealand and Marshall Islands is modest. There are some opportunities for New Zealand companies, particularly in the construction sector and the export of building materials, food and beverages.

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Visits to Republic of Marshall Islands

Visits to New Zealand

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Travel advice

The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to the Marshall Islands [external link].

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 24 March 2015 16:01 NZDT