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Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2005

GeographyPeopleHistoryGovernmentPolitical ConditionsEconomyForeign RelationsU.S. RelationsTravel/BusinessBackground Notes A-Z  Background Note: Palau

Palau flag is light blue with a large yellow disk - representing the moon - shifted slightly to the hoist side.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Republic of Palau

Geography
Area: 458 sq. km. (about 190 sq. mi.) in eight main islands plus more than 250 islets.
Cities: Capital--Koror (pop. 13,303).
Terrain: Varies from mountainous main island to smaller, reef-rimmed coral islands.
Climate: Tropical.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Palauan.
Population: 20,891. Age structure--35.4% under 18, 6.6% over 65.
Growth rate: 2.1%.
Ethnic groups: Palauans are Micronesian with Malayan and Melanesian elements.
Religion: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Modekngei (an indigenous Palauan religion).
Languages: English (official in all 16 states), Palauan.
Education: Literacy--92%.
Health: Life expectancy--male 68 yrs.; female 76 yrs. Infant mortality rate--16.7/1,000.
Work force: Government--29%; tourism--18%; other services--28%; construction--11%, agriculture--3%.

Government
Type: Constitutional republic in free association with United States.
Independence (from U.S.-administered UN trusteeship): October 1, 1994.
Constitution: January 1, 1981.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state and government), vice president, cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament elected by popular vote. Judicial--Supreme Court, National Court, Court of Common Pleas, and the Land Court. 

Economy
GDP (2003): $116.8 million.
GDP per capita: $5,678.
National income (GDP + foreign assistance): $143 million.
National income per capita: $7,475.
GDP composition by sector: Public administration 27%, trade 20%, construction 8%, hotels/restaurants 10%, transport and communication 9%.
Industry: Types--Government, tourism.
Trade: Exports ($34.9 million, 2003)--fish, handicrafts. Export markets--U.S., Japan, Taiwan. Imports ($97 million)--fuel, food and beverages, manufactured goods. Import sources--U.S. and Guam (54%), Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea.
External debt: $32.7 million (2005)
.
Currency: U.S. dollar.

GEOGRAPHY AND PEOPLE
The Republic of Palau consists of eight principal islands and more than 250 smaller ones lying roughly 500 miles southeast of the Philippines. The islands of Palau constitute part of the Caroline Islands chain. About 70% of Palauans live in the capital city of Koror on Koror Island. The constitution calls for a new capital to be established on the bigger but less developed island of Babeldaob--the second-largest island in Micronesia after Guam.  Construction of that capital in the State of Melekeok began in 2002, with an expected move of the national government in late 2006 following the spring/summer 2006 completion of U.S.-funded connector highway.

HISTORY
Palau was initially settled more than 4,000 years ago, probably by migrants from what today is Indonesia. British traders became prominent visitors in the 18th century, followed by expanding Spanish influence in the 19th century. Following its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Palau and most of the rest of the Caroline Islands to Germany in 1899. Control passed to Japan in 1914 and then to the United States under UN auspices in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

Four of the Trust Territory districts formed a single federated Micronesian state in 1979, but the districts of Palau and the Marshall Islands declined to participate. Palau instead approved a new constitution and became the Republic of Palau in 1981, signing a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982. After eight referenda and an amendment to the Palauan constitution, the Compact went into effect on October 1, 1994, marking Palau's emergence from trusteeship to independence.

GOVERNMENT
Palau is a democratic republic with directly elected executive and legislative branches. Presidential elections take place every 4 years, at the same time as the United Statesí presidential election, to select the president and the vice president, who run on separate tickets. The Palau National Congress (Olbiil era Kelulau) has two houses. The Senate has nine members elected nationwide. The House of Delegates has 16 members, one each from Palau's 16 states. All of the legislators serve 4-year terms. Each state also elects its own governor and legislature.

The Council of Chiefs is an advisory body to the president containing the highest traditional chiefs from each of the 16 states. The Council is consulted on matters concerning traditional laws and customs.

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, National Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Land Court. The Supreme Court has trial and appellate divisions and is presided over by the Chief Justice.

On November 2, 2004, President Remengesau was reelected President and Camsek Chin was elected Vice President. Several newcomers to the political scene were elected to the Senate and the House.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State and Government--President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.
Vice President--Camsek Chin
Ambassador to the U.S.--Hersey Kyota
Ambassador to the UN--Stuart Beck

Palau maintains an embassy at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 400, Washington, DC 2006 (tel: 202-452-6814, fax: 202-452-6281). The Republic of Palauís Mission to the United Nations is located at 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 575, New York, New York  10017 (tel: 212-813-0310, fax: 212-813-0317).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS
While calm in recent years, Palau witnessed several instances of political violence in the 1980s. The republic's first president, Haruo I. Remeliik, was assassinated in 1985, with the Minister of State eventually found to be complicit in the crime. Palau's third president, Lazurus Salii, committed suicide in September 1988 amidst bribery allegations. Salii's personal assistant had been imprisoned several months earlier after being convicted of firing shots into the home of the Speaker of the House of Delegates.

Legislation making Palau an "offshore" financial center was passed by the Senate in 1998. In 2001 Palau passed its first bank regulation and anti-money laundering laws.

ECONOMY
Palau's per capita GDP of $5,678 makes it one of the wealthier Pacific Island states. Nominal GDP increased by an annual average of nearly 14% from 1983 to 1990, and by an annual rate of over 10% from 1991 to 1997. Growth turned sharply negative in 1998 and 1999 as a result of the Asian financial crisis, but grew by 3.3% and 3.1% in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Tourism is Palau's main industry. Activity focuses on scuba diving and snorkeling in the islands' rich marine environment, including the Floating Garden Islands to the west of Koror and the Rock Islands to the south. The number of visitors--85% of whom come from Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S.--reached 90,000 in 2004, more than quadruple the level of a decade earlier. Tourism earned $67 million in foreign exchange for Palau in 1996, accounting for roughly half of GDP. Arrivals from Asian countries dropped in 1998 and 1999 due to the regional economic downturn but rebounded throughout the first half of the 2000s. CBSís airing of ďSurvivor: PalauĒ in 2004-5 raised the countryís international profile substantially, and in 2005 a new Japan Airlines-affiliated luxury hotel opened for business. Palauan tourism and environmental authorities would like to transition the industry to cater to low-volume, high-dollar tourists.

The service sector dominates the Palauan economy, contributing more than 80% of GDP and employing three-quarters of the work force. The government alone employs nearly 29% of workers. One of the government's main responsibilities is administering external assistance. Under the terms of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, Palau will receive more than $450 million in assistance over 15 years and is eligible to participate in more than 40 federal programs. The first grant of $142 million was made in 1994. Further annual payments in lesser amounts will be made through 2009. U.S. grants in 2003 totaled $11 million.

Construction is the most important industrial activity, contributing over 8% of GDP. Several large infrastructure projects, including the rebuilding of the bridge connecting Koror and Babeldaob Islands after its collapse in 1996 and the construction of a highway around the rim of Babeldaob, has boosted activity.

Agriculture is mainly on a subsistence level, the principal crops being coconuts, root crops, and bananas. Fishing is a potential source of revenue, but the islands' tuna output dropped by over one-third during the 1990s.

The main economic challenge confronting Palau is to ensure the long-term viability of its economy by reducing its reliance on foreign assistance. The Compact of Free Association created a trust fund to provide perennial budget support when U.S. direct assistance ends in 2009. The value of the trust fund in 2005 was approximately $150 million.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Palau gained its independence October 1, 1994 with the entry into force of the Compact of Free Association with the United States. Palau was the last Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands territories to gain its independence. Under the Compact, the U.S. remains responsible for Palau's defense for 50 years.

Palau is a sovereign nation and conducts its own foreign relations. Since independence, Palau has established diplomatic relations with a number of nations, including many of its Pacific neighbors. Palau was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1994, and has since joined several other international organizations.

Principal U.S. Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Deborah L. Kingsland

The mailing address for the U.S. Embassy is P.O. Box 6028, Republic of Palau 96940. Telephone: 680-488-2920/2990. Fax: 680-488-2911. Email: USembassyKoror@palaunet.com.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are on the Internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register their travel via the State Departmentís travel registration web site at https://travelregistration.state.gov or at the Consular section of the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country by filling out a short form and sending in a copy of their passports. This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more.

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

  
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