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Kirbati Economy - History

Kirbati Economy - History


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GDP: $206.4 million.(PP) 2004
GNP (GDP + investment income, fishing license fees, and seamen's remittances): $96.7 million.
GDP per capita: $2,700.
GDP composition by sector: Services 75%, agriculture 14%, industry 11%.

Budget: Income .............. $33.3 million Expenditure ... $44.7 million

Main Crops: copra, taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, vegetables; fish Natural Resources: phosphate

Major Industries: fishing, handicrafts


Kiribati's per capita GNP of less than U.S. $1,000 makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. Phosphates had been profitably exported from Banaba Island since the turn of the century, but the deposits were exhausted in 1979.

The end of phosphate revenue in 1979 had a devastating impact on the economy. Receipts from phosphates had accounted for roughly 80% of export earnings and 50% of government revenue. Per capita GDP was more than cut in half between 1979 and 1981. A trust fund financed by phosphate earnings over the years--the Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund--still exists and contained more than U.S. $400 million in 2003. Kiribati has received high marks for its prudent management of the reserve fund, which is vital for the long-term welfare of the country.

In one form or another, Kiribati gets a large portion of its income from abroad. Examples include fishing licenses, development assistance, worker remittances, and tourism. In particular, about 2000 I-Kiribati work as sailors on foreign merchant ships. Given Kiribati's limited domestic production ability, it must import nearly all of its essential foodstuffs and manufactured items, and it depends on these external sources of income for financing.

Fishing fleets from South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and the United States pay licensing fees to operate in Kiribati's territorial waters. These licenses produce revenue worth U.S. $20 million to $35 million annually. Due to its small land mass and huge maritime area, however, Kiribati also loses untold millions of dollars per year from illegal, unlicensed fishing in its exclusive economic zone.

Another U.S. $20 million to $25 million of external income takes the form of direct financial transfers. Official development assistance amounts to between U.S. $15 million and $20 million per year. The largest donors are Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, Taiwan is widely expected to become an important bilateral donor in the coming years. U.S. assistance is provided through multilateral institutions. Remittances from Kiribati workers living abroad provide more than $7.5 million annually.

Tourism is a relatively small, but important domestic sector. Between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors per year provide U.S. $5 million to $10 million in revenue. Attractions include World War II battle sites, game fishing, ecotourism, and the Millennium Islands, situated just inside the International Date Line and the first place on earth to celebrate New Year. The vast majority of American tourists only visit Christmas Island in the Line Islands on fishing and diving vacations via weekly charter flights from Honolulu.

Most islanders engage in subsistence activities ranging from fishing to the growing of food crops like bananas, breadfruit, and papaya. The leading export is the coconut product, copra, which accounts for about two-thirds of export revenue. Currently, copra is exported to Bangladesh for processing, but there are plans to process copra in Tarawa. Other exports include pet fish, shark fins, and seaweed. Kiribati's principal trading partners are Australia and Japan.

Transportation and communications are a challenge for Kiribati. International air links to the capital of Tarawa are provided only by the near-bankrupt Air Nauru. Air Kiribati provides service to most of the populated atolls in the Gilberts using small planes flying from Tarawa. Small ships serve outlying islands, including in the Line Islands, with irregular schedules. Hawaiian Air flies to Christmas Island once a week. It is not possible to travel from the Line Islands to the Gilbert Islands by air without traveling via Hawaii and either Fiji or the Marshall Islands.

Telecommunications are expensive, and service is mediocre. There is no broadband. The monopoly Internet provider on Tarawa is one of the most expensive in the world.


The Culture And Traditions Of Kiribati

A dancer from Kiribati performs at the UN Convention for Climate Change. Editorial credit: dominika zarzycka / Shutterstock.com.

Kiribati is an island nation located in the central area of the Pacific Ocean. Its current customs and traditions have been influenced both by its history as a colony of the UK and by its relative isolation from the rest of the world. Its colonial history has influenced some of its major holidays and religions, while its geographical isolation has allowed it to keep some of its ancient traditions and customs alive. This country is made up of 33 islands and has a population of around 110,000 individuals, half of whom live in or around the capital city Tarawa. Only around 20 of these islands have permanent human populations. Approximately 98.8% of the population here identifies as belonging to the Micronesian ethnicity. The most widely spoken language throughout this country is Taetae ni Kiribati, also known as Gilbertese. This language belongs to the Austronesian language family.

The culture of Kiribati includes its: social beliefs and customs, religions and festivals, music and dance, literature and arts, and cuisine. This article takes a closer look at each of these components of the culture of Kiribati.


Kirbati Economy - History

Economy - overview:
A remote country of 33 scattered coral atolls, Kiribati has few natural resources and is one of the least developed Pacific Island countries. Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted by the time of independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Earnings from fishing licenses and seafarer remittances are important sources of income. Although the number of seafarers employed declined due to changes in global shipping demands, remittances are expected to improve with more overseas temporary and seasonal work opportunities for Kiribati nationals.

Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, weak infrastructure, and remoteness from international markets. The public sector dominates economic activity, with ongoing capital projects in infrastructure including road rehabilitation, water and sanitation projects, and renovations to the international airport, spurring some growth. Public debt increased from 23% of GDP at the end of 2015 to 25.8% in 2016.

Kiribati is dependent on foreign aid, which was estimated to have contributed over 32.7% in 2016 to the government’s finances. The country’s sovereign fund, the Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund (RERF), which is held offshore, had an estimated balance of $855.5 million in late July 2016. The RERF seeks to avoid exchange rate risk by holding investments in more than 20 currencies, including the Australian dollar, US dollar, the Japanese yen, and the Euro. Drawdowns from the RERF helped finance the government’s annual budget.

Industries:
fishing, handicrafts

Exports - partners:
Philippines 50.8%, Malaysia 17.2%, US 11.4%, Bangladesh 5.8%, Fiji 5.4% (2017)

Imports - commodities:
food, machinery and equipment, miscellaneous manufactured goods, fuel

Imports - partners:
Australia 29.3%, Fiji 17.3%, NZ 10.7%, China 5.8%, US 5.8%, Singapore 5.1%, Japan 4.6%, Thailand 4.1% (2017)

Exchange rates:
Australian dollars (AUD) per US dollar -
1.31 (2017 est.)
1.34 (2016 est.)
1.34 (2015 est.)
1.33 (2014 est.)
1.11 (2013 est.)
note: the Australian dollar circulates as legal tender

NOTE: 1) The information regarding Kiribati on this page is re-published from the 2020 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Kiribati Economy 2020 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Kiribati Economy 2020 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
2) The rank that you see is the CIA reported rank, which may have the following issues:
a) They assign increasing rank number, alphabetically for countries with the same value of the ranked item, whereas we assign them the same rank.
b) The CIA sometimes assigns counterintuitive ranks. For example, it assigns unemployment rates in increasing order, whereas we rank them in decreasing order.


Kiribati on Map

19. The nation is under threat of being engulfed by the sea in the coming 50 years or more.

20. The country has bought 6000 acres of land from Fiji to relocate its people at a safer place. Fiji is more than 1000 miles away from Kiribati. (However, there will always be a chance that human race will survive once again and adjust with the changes coming its way. The human race is apt at surviving and this we know for sure.)


U.S. Relations With Kiribati

The United States and Kiribati signed a treaty of friendship in 1979, following Kiribati’s independence from the United Kingdom. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1980. The United States and Kiribati have enjoyed a close relationship based on mutual respect and shared interests. The two countries work closely together on a broad range of issues, from strengthening regional security, to promoting education and climate resilience, to protecting fisheries and food and water security. The United States has no consular or diplomatic facilities in the country. Officers of the U.S. Embassy in Fiji are concurrently accredited to Kiribati and make regular visits. In November 2018, the United States and Kiribati commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa, one of the bloodiest of World War II’s Pacific Theater. The two countries actively cooperate in the repatriation of remains of U.S. Marines fallen in that battle.

U.S. Assistance to Kiribati

USAID funds regional projects assisting communities in accessing financing, building institutional capacity, and adapting to climate change. The Ready project (2016-2021) supports climate finance and management capacity. With the Pacific Community (SPC), the Institutional Strengthening in Pacific Island Countries to Adapt to Climate Change project (ISACC, 2015-2020) is undertaking climate finance assessments and supporting scale up of successful multi-sectoral projects. The Pacific American Climate Fund (PACAM, 2013-2019) built the capacity of small local grantees to adapt to climate change while supporting their efforts to improve water supply and management. The United States is a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Kiribati, including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), to which the United States, together with Japan, is the largest contributor UN Children’s Fund World Health Organization and UN Fund for Population Activities.

The United States has an expanded shiprider agreement with Kiribati under the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) to provide security and support missions that permit Kiribati law enforcement officials to ride aboard U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels. The United States also contributes U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy air assets to search and rescue operations as well as regional Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) operations that help Kiribati protect earnings from fishing licenses in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Additionally, Kiribati participates in U.S. Pacific Command sponsored workshops on topics including humanitarian assistance/disaster relief and maritime security.

Bilateral Economic Relations

U.S. trade with Kiribati is limited. Kiribati is a party to the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral Tuna Fisheries Treaty, which provides access to U.S. fishing vessels in exchange for a license fee paid by U.S. industry. Under a separate Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the Treaty, the United States government currently provides $21 million per year to Pacific island parties. The majority of U.S. tourists to Kiribati visit Christmas Island (Kiritimati) in the Line Islands on fishing and diving vacations as there is a direct flight from Hawaii.

Kiribati’s Membership in International Organizations

Kiribati and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Regional Environmental Programme. Kiribati also belongs to the Pacific Islands Forum, of which the United States is a Dialogue Partner.

Since the 2016 opening of the American Shelf, the Embassy’s Public Diplomacy Section has re-energized outreach in Kiribati through media, speaker, and cultural programs, including the first-ever tour of a country music band in Kiribati. Public Diplomacy also funds multiple exchange and education programs for iKiribati participants.

Bilateral Representation

Principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.

Kiribati does not have an embassy in Washington, D.C., but Kiribati’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York is accredited as ambassador to the United States.

More information about Kiribati is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:


According the United Nations (UN) Report for Pacific Island Developing Countries (1992), the most significant environmental problems facing the nations in this area of the world are global warming and the rise of sea levels. Variations in the level of the sea may damage forests and agricultural areas and contaminate fresh water supplies with salt water. A rise in sea level by even 2 feet (60 cm) would leave Kiribati uninhabitable in 1996, such a rise was forecast as a possibility by 2100. Kiribati, along with the other nations in the area, is vulnerable to earthquakes and volcanic activity. The nation also has inadequate facilities for handling solid waste, which has been a major environmental concern, particularly in the larger population centers.

The environment in Kiribati has also been adversely affected by metals and chemicals from mining activities, and agricultural chemicals have polluted coastal waters. Phosphate mining was especially devastating, rendering the island of Banaba almost uninhabitable. The Banabans, who were forced to move to the Fijian island of Rabi, sued the owners of the mines and won special compensation. A fund was set up to compensate the people of Kiribati. Called the Phosphate Revenue Equalization Fund (PREF), in 1996 it amounted to a$200 million.

The lagoon of the southern Tarawa atoll has been heavily polluted by solid waste disposal. Like other Pacific islands, Kiribati is sensitive to the dangers of pollution and radiation from weapons tests and nuclear waste disposal. The UN report describes the wildlife in these areas as "among the most critically threatened in the world." According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 5 species of birds, 1 type of reptile, 4 species of fish, and 1 type of mollusk. Endangered species included the green sea turtle, the coconut crab, the giant grouper, the tiger shark, the pygmy killer whale, and the mukojima bonin honeyeater.


About the food of Kiribati

Every country has a distinct personality. Think of Kiribati as a distant relative – one you might not have even known existed.

And I don’t mean your grouchy Aunt Lola.

Nope. I mean an upbeat and exotic cousin – one that somehow also manages to exude simplicity and thrift. At her most basic, Kiribati’s a hodge podge of 33 teeny weeny coral atolls in Oceania. Translation? Kiribati’s landmass is so small that “island” is not an appropriate way to describe her situation (although the grouping is officially called the Kiribati Islands – confused yet?).

Fire truck, pandanus tree, flag and maps. Courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

To be honest, I had never heard of Kiribati before GTA. It only took a few internet searches to realize I was not alone. Most of the information about Kiribati was sparse and – as I was to learn – completely wrong. The little good information I could dig up was found in World Cookbook for Students and on a neat web site called 12 Months in Kiribati (about a guy and gal volunteering in Kiribati for – you guessed it – twelve months. They site is mid-process, so you can jump in and enjoy it as their adventures unfold).

I contacted the authors, Pete and Nicky Holden for more information. They were kind to send a few emails to help me wrap my brain around the food of Kiribati.

At the end of the day, if I had to sum Kiribati’s cuisine up with one word, it would be FISH.

Lots and lots of fish. Nicky says the most popular seafood is: “lobster,yellowfin or skipjack tuna, but also other fish (fried, boiled, battered and deep fried, baked… anything you can think of). […] Kiribati is a coral atoll (not volcanic, fertile soil like most of the Pacific), so not much grows here. Coconut, breadfruit treas and pandanus are the main things that grow. Things like pumpkin, cabbage and cherry tomatoes have been introduced, so they grow too. […] little bananas are everywhere.”

She adds that curry powder, rice and canned goods – such as corned beef (something that also showed up nearby Fiji’s menu) – are all popular, although in each case they’re imports. Exotic items like ginger, garlic, and chili peppers are all imported and not used in daily cooking. A basic meal might include fish or lobster with coconut milk & curry powder [Recipe], finished with sweet pumpkin and pandan leaves [Recipe]. Boiling and underground roasting is kept plain and simple.

It’s fun getting to know a new country. Even if she’s been there all along, just waiting for someone to notice.


Kiribati Continues to Pave Way for Stronger Economy

WASHINGTON D.C., November 22, 2017 – The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved US$5 million for Kiribati’s Fourth Economic Reform Development Policy Operation, which will build on progress made to strengthen public finances and boost inclusive economic growth.

The fourth in a series since 2013, the financing will assist in strengthening public financial management through improved governance of the country’s sovereign wealth fund (known as the Revenue Equalization Reserve Fund (RERF)), and better reporting and monitoring of public debt and liabilities. Efforts towards more inclusive growth will be improved through measures that strengthen joint ventures in fisheries and improve access to telecommunications and electricity, particularly in the nation’s outer islands.

“With the support of trusted development partners including the World Bank, the government of Kiribati will continue to strive for a more prosperous future for all I-Kiribati,” said Hon. Dr. Teuea Toatu Minister for Finance and Economic Development. “We are committed to our reform plan and to our promise to deliver greater access to telecommunications in the outer islands and affordable electricity to those most in need.”

The Fourth Economic Support Development Policy Operation directly supports the government’s Economic Reform Plan, which has already delivered greater transparency around public debt and management of the RERF, competition in the domestic mobile telecommunications market, and improved delivery of essential services from the Public Utilities Board.

Development partners the Asian Development Bank, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade each provided budget support for the series of policy reforms agreed with the I-Kiribati government.

“The World Bank stands as a committed partner in development with the government of Kiribati, as they work to ensure stronger public finances and create an environment for economic growth which benefits all I-Kiribati,” said World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, Michel Kerf.

The Fourth Economic Support Development Policy Operation is funded through a US$5 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the most in-need countries. This support builds on gains achieved by previous development policy operations in 2013, 2014 and 2016.


Kiribati buys a piece of Fiji

Piece of the land in Fiji

OB – Press Release

Kiribati’s Head of State – President Anote Tong made the announcement last week confirming that government has made the final payment for the purchase of the AUD$9.3 million Natoavatu Estate located in Fiji’s second biggest island of Vanua Levu.

“I wish to officially announce that government has come to a final resolve and has made the full purchase of the piece of land in Fiji.” President Tong said in his address to the nation on national radio last Friday.

Tong added that government sent a team earlier this month, comprising of the Minister of Environment, Lands and Agriculture Development and the Attorney General, to settle the purchase of the land with the Fiji authorities.

The team were assured the Certificate of Title for the Natoavatu Estate after all requirements were met and a transaction of the final payment of AUD$8.3 million was witnessed before the previous land owners – The Trustees for the Colony of Fiji of the Church of England and the Fiji authorities.

Tong said that the acquisition of the 5460-acre piece of land marks a new milestone in government’s development plans particularly in its endeavor to address its economic and food security issues as it is greatly impacted by climate change.

“I’m glad we’ve taken this milestone with Fiji and hope that developed countries can engage with frontline countries like us in this arena, as a matter of taking simple actions rather than negotiating climate change issues where common ground is far from reach.” President Tong added.

Earlier this year, President of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau met with his Kiribati counterpart on Kiribati shores where he assured “that the people of Kiribati will have a home if their country is submerged by the rising sea level as a result of climate change.

The Fiji President made the announcement confirming the suggestion made earlier by Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, that Fiji would assist Kiribati in any way it could.

The land purchase of the Natoavatu Estate is an investment by the government to explore options of commercial, industrial and agricultural undertakings such as fish canning, beef/poultry farming, fruit/vegetable farming to name but a few.


Kirbati Economy - History

      The I-Kiribati people settled what would become known as the Gilbert Islands between 1000 and 1300 AD. Subsequent invasions by Fijians and Tongans introduced Melanesian and Polynesian elements to the Micronesian culture, but extensive intermarriage has produced a population reasonably homogeneous in appearance and traditions.

    European contact began in the 16th century. Whalers, slave traders, and merchant vessels arrived in great numbers in the 1800s, fomenting local tribal conflicts and introducing often-fatal European diseases. In an effort to restore a measure of order, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (the Ellice Islands are now known as Tuvalu) consented to becoming British protectorates in 1892. Banaba (Ocean Island) was annexed in 1900 after the discovery of phosphate-rich guano deposits, and the entire collection was made a British colony in 1916. The Line and Phoenix Islands were incorporated piecemeal over the next 20 years.

    Japan seized some of the islands during World War II. In November 1943, U.S. forces assaulted heavily fortified Japanese positions on Tarawa Atoll in the Gilberts, resulting in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Pacific campaign. The battle was a turning point in the Central Pacific.

    Britain began expanding self-government in the islands during the 1960s. In 1975 the Ellice Islands separated from the colony and in 1978 became the independent country of Tuvalu. The Gilberts obtained internal self-government in 1977, and formally became an independent nation on July 12, 1979, under the name of Kiribati.

    Post-independence politics were initially dominated by Ieremia Tabai, Kiribati's first President, who served from 1979 to 1991, stepping down due to Kiribati's three-term limit for presidents. Teburoro Tito's tenure as President was from 1994 to 2003. His third term lasted only a matter of months before he lost a no confidence motion in Parliament. (See the next section for an explanation of Kiribati's unique presidential system.) In July 2003, Anote Tong defeated his elder brother, Harry Tong, who was backed by former President Tito and his allies. An ensuing court challenge which alleged violations of campaign finance laws could have unseated President Tong. However, in October 2003, a judge specially brought in from Australia to ensure strict neutrality ruled in President Tong's favor.


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