Fiji Country Facts - Tips

Fiji Country Facts Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2007

Background Note: Fiji

Dancers from Viseisei village in Fiji
perform during a welcoming ceremony,
March 10, 2005. [© AP Images]

Fiji flag: light blue; U.K. flag in upper hoist-side quadrant; Fijian shield
on the outer half.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Republic of the Fiji Islands

Geography
Area: 18,376 sq. km (7,056 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Suva (pop. 167,000), Lautoka (pop. 30,000), Nadi.
Terrain: Mountainous or varied.
Climate: Tropical maritime.

People
Nationality: Noun--Fiji Islander; adjective--Fiji or Fijian.*
Population (2006 est.): 843,445.Age structure: 35.4% under 14; 3.1% over 65.
Annual growth rate (2006 est.): 0.83%.
Ethnic groups: Indigenous Fijian 55%, Indo-Fijian 37%.
Religion: Christian 52% (Methodist and Roman Catholic), Hindu 33%, Muslim 7%.
Languages: English (official), Fijian, Hindi.
Education: Literacy (2004)--93%.
Health (2004): Life expectancy--overall, 67.8 years, male 66 years; female
70. Infant mortality rate--16/1,000.
Work force: Agriculture--67%.

*The term "Fijian" has exclusively ethnic connotations and should not be used
to describe any thing or person not of indigenous Fijian descent.

Government
Type: Parliamentary democracy (overthrown by military coup in December 2006).
Independence (from U.K.): October 10, 1970.
Constitution: July 1997 (suspended May 2000, reaffirmed March 2001).
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of
government), Cabinet. Legislative--bicameral parliament; upper house is
appointed, lower house is elected. Judicial--Supreme Court and supporting
hierarchy.
Major political parties: Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL), Fiji Labor
Party (FLP), United People's Party (UPP), National Federation Party (NFP).

Economy (all figures in U.S. dollars)
GDP (2006 est.): $2.9 billion.
GDP per capita (nominal): $3,420.
GDP composition by sector: Services 59.7%, industry 30.4%, agriculture 9.9%.
Industry: Types--tourism, sugar, garments.
Trade: Exports--$487 million; sugar, garments, gold, fish, mineral water.
Major markets--Australia, U.S., U.K., Japan, New Zealand Imports--$1.9
billion; mineral products, machinery and transport equipment. Major
sources--Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, U.S. ($58.7 million).
Government external debt (2005 provisional): $94.3 million.

GEOGRAPHY
Fiji is comprised of a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific lying
about 4,450 km. (2,775 mi.) southwest of Honolulu and 1,770 km. (1,100 mi.)
north of New Zealand. Its 322 islands vary dramatically in size. The largest
islands are Viti Levu, about the size of the "Big Island" of Hawaii, and
where the capital and 70% of the population are located, and Vanua Levu. Just
over 100 of the smaller islands are inhabited. The larger islands contain
mountains as high as 1,200 meters (4,000 ft.) rising abruptly from the shore.

Heavy rains--up to 304 cm. (120 in.) annually--fall on the windward
(southeastern) sides of the islands, covering these sections with dense
tropical forest. Lowlands on the western portions of each of the main islands
are sheltered by the mountains and have a well-marked dry season favorable to
crops such as sugarcane.

PEOPLE
Most of Fiji's population lives on Viti Levu's coasts, either in Suva or in
smaller urban centers. The interior of Viti Levu is sparsely populated due to
its rough terrain.

Indigenous Fijians are a mixture of Polynesian and Melanesian, resulting from
the original migrations to the South Pacific many centuries ago. The
Indo-Fijian population grew rapidly from the 60,000 indentured laborers
brought from India between 1879 and 1916 to work in the sugarcane fields.
Thousands more Indians migrated voluntarily in the 1920s and 1930s and formed
the core of Fiji's business class. Native Fijians live throughout the
country, while Indo-Fijians reside primarily near the urban centers and in
the cane-producing areas of the two main islands. Nearly all of indigenous
Fijians are Christian; more than three-quarters are Methodist. Approximately
80% of Indo-Fijians are Hindu, 15% are Muslim, and around 6% are Christian.

Some Indo-Fijians have been displaced by the expiration of land leases in
cane-producing areas and have moved into urban centers in pursuit of jobs.
Similarly, a number of indigenous Fijians have moved into urban areas,
especially Suva, in search of a better life. Meanwhile, the Indo-Fijian
population has declined due to emigration and a declining birth rate.
Indo-Fijians currently constitute 37% of the total population, although they
were the largest ethnic group from the 1940s until the late 1980s.
Indo-Fijians continue to dominate the professions and commerce, while ethnic
Fijians dominate government and the military.

HISTORY
Melanesian and Polynesian peoples settled the Fijian islands some 3,500 years
ago. European traders and missionaries arrived in the first half of the 19th
century, and the resulting disruption led to increasingly serious wars among
the native Fijian confederacies. One Ratu (chief), Cakobau, gained limited
control over the western islands by the 1850s, but the continuing unrest led
him and a convention of chiefs to cede Fiji unconditionally to the British in
1874.

The pattern of colonialism in Fiji during the following century was similar
to that in many other British possessions: the pacification of the
countryside, the spread of plantation agriculture, and the introduction of
Indian indentured labor. Many traditional institutions, including the system
of communal land ownership, were maintained.

Fiji soldiers fought alongside the Allies in the Second World War, gaining a
fine reputation in the tough Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and
other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the
war, but Fiji itself never came under attack.

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should
become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth. Fiji
became independent on October 10, 1970. Post-independence politics came to be
dominated by the Alliance Party of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. The Indian-led
opposition won a majority of House seats in 1977, but failed to form a
government out of concern that indigenous Fijians would not accept
Indo-Fijian leadership. In April 1987, a coalition led by Dr. Timoci Bavadra,
an ethnic Fijian supported by the Indo-Fijian community, won the general
election and formed Fiji's first majority Indian government, with Dr. Bavadra
serving as Prime Minister. Less than a month later, Dr. Bavadra was forcibly
removed from power during a military coup led by Lt. Col. Sitiveni Rabuka on
May 14, 1987.

After a period of deadlocked negotiations, Rabuka staged a second coup on
September 25, 1987. The military government revoked the constitution and
declared Fiji a republic on October 10. This action, coupled with protests by
the Government of India, led to Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth of
Nations and official non-recognition of the Rabuka regime from foreign
governments, including Australia and New Zealand. On December 6, 1987, Rabuka
resigned as head of state and Governor General Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau was
appointed the first President of the Fijian Republic. Mara was reappointed
Prime Minister, and Rabuka became Minister of Home Affairs.

The new government drafted a new constitution that went into force in July
1990. Under its terms, majorities were reserved for ethnic Fijians in both
houses of the legislature. Previously, in 1989, the government had released
statistical information showing that for the first time since 1946, ethnic
Fijians were a majority of the population. More than 12,000 Indo-Fijians and
other minorities had left the country in the 2 years following the 1987
coups. After resigning from the military, Rabuka became prime minister in
1993 after elections under the new constitution.

Tensions simmered in 1995-96 over the renewal of land leases and political
maneuvering surrounding the mandated 7-year review of the 1990 constitution.
The Constitutional Review Commission produced a draft constitution that
expanded the size of the legislature, lowered the proportion of seats
reserved by ethnic group, and reserved the presidency for ethnic Fijians, but
opened the position of prime minister to all races. Prime Minister Rabuka and
President Mara supported the proposal, while the nationalist indigenous
Fijian parties opposed it. The reformed constitution was approved in July
1997. Fiji was readmitted to the Commonwealth in October.

The first legislative elections held under the new constitution took place in
May 1999. Rabuka's coalition was defeated by the Fiji Labor Party (FLP),
which formed a coalition, led by Mahendra Chaudhry, with two small Fijian
parties. Chaudhry became Fiji's first Indo-Fijian prime minister. One year
later, in May 2000, Chaudhry and most other members of parliament were taken
hostage in the House of Representatives by gunmen led by ethnic Fijian
nationalist George Speight. The standoff dragged on for 8 weeks--during which
time Chaudhry was removed from office by the then-president due to his
incapacitation. The Republic of Fiji military forces convinced President Mara
to resign and brokered a negotiated end to the situation. Speight was later
arrested when he violated the settlements' terms. In February 2002, Speight
was convicted of treason and is currently serving a life sentence.

In July 2000, former banker Laisenia Qarase was named interim prime minister
and head of the interim civilian administration by the military and Great
Council of Chiefs. Ratu Josefa Iloilo was named President. The Supreme Court
reaffirmed the validity of the constitution and ordered the Chaudhry
government returned to power in March 2001, after which the President
dissolved the Parliament elected in 2000 and appointed Qarase head of a
caretaker government until elections could be held in August. Qarase's newly
formed Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) party won the elections. In May
2006, the SDL was re-elected to a majority in the Parliament, Qarase
continued as Prime Minister and formed a multi-party cabinet, which included
nine members of the FLP.

In the lead-up to the May 2006 election and beginning again in September,
tensions grew between Commander of the Fiji Military Forces Commodore Frank
Bainimarama and the Qarase government. Bainimarama demanded the Qarase
government not pursue certain legislation and policies. On December 5, 2006
Bainimarama removed elected Prime Minister Qarase from his position and
dissolved Parliament in a military coup d'état. Bainimarama temporarily
assumed the powers of the President, stating that the President was unable to
discharge his responsibilities. Qarase was exiled to an outer island. On
January 4, 2007, Bainimarama reinstated President Iloilo, who stated the
military was justified in its behavior and promised them amnesty. The
following day Iloilo appointed Bainimarama Prime Minister. Over the following
weeks Bainimarama formed an "interim government" that included, among others,
former Prime Minister Chaudhry and former Republic of Fiji Military Forces
heads Epeli Ganilau and Epeli Nailatikau.

GOVERNMENT
Under the Fiji constitution, the president (head of state) is appointed for a
5-year term by the Great Council of Chiefs, a traditional ethnic Fijian
leadership body. The president in turn appoints the prime minister (head of
government) and Cabinet from among the members of Parliament. Both houses of
the legislature have some seats reserved by ethnicity. Other seats can be
filled by persons of any ethnic group. The House of Representatives is
elected; the Senate is appointed. Since the December 2006 coup, the
self-appointed interim government has ruled by decree.

Fiji maintains an independent judiciary consisting of a Supreme Court, a
Court of Appeals, a High Court, and magistrate courts. All but one of the
five judges on the Supreme Court also is a serving judge in Australia or New
Zealand.

There are four administrative divisions--central, eastern, northern and
western--each under the charge of a commissioner. Ethnic Fijians have their
own administration in which councils preside over a hierarchy of provinces,
districts, and villages. The councils deal with all matters affecting ethnic
Fijians.

The Great Council of Chiefs (Bose Levu Vakaturaga) is made up of 55
hereditary chiefs, most of whom are nominated to the Council by their
respective provincial councils. It is established under the Fijian Affairs
Act and recognized by the constitution.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State (President)--Josefa Iloilo
Head of Government--Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama (deposed Prime
Minister Laisenia Qarase in December 2006 coup)
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Kaliopate Tavola (deposed in December 2006 coup)
Ambassador to the United States--vacant
Ambassador to the United Nations--Mason Smith

Fiji maintains an embassy at 2000 M Street NW, Suite 710, Washington, DC
20036 (tel: 202-337-8320).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS
For 17 years after independence, Fiji was a parliamentary democracy. During
that time, political life was dominated by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and the
Alliance Party, which combined the traditional Fijian chiefly system with
leading elements of the European, part-European, and Indian communities. The
main parliamentary opposition, the National Federation Party, represented
mainly rural Indo-Fijians. Intercommunal relations were managed without
serious confrontation. However, when a cabinet with substantial ethnic Indian
representation was installed after the April 1987 election, extremist
elements played on ethnic Fijian fears of domination by the Indo-Fijian
community resulting in a military coup d'etat.

This began what many now refer to as the "coup cycle." The most recent coup
took place in December 2006, but has its roots in the previous 2000 coup and
mutiny. Military commander Commodore Bainimarama helped resolve the 2000
crisis by imposing martial law. Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase led the
interim government that followed. Subsequently, Qarase was elected in 2001
and 2006, but pursued some policies favoring the indigenous Fijian community.

One of the main issues of contention is land tenure. Indigenous Fijian
communities very closely identify themselves with their land. In 1909 the
land ownership pattern was frozen by the British and further sales
prohibited. Today, over 90% of the land is held by indigenous Fijians, under
the collective ownership of the traditional Fijian clans. That land cannot be
sold. Indo-Fijians produce more than 75% of the sugar crop but, in most
cases, must lease the land they work from its ethnic Fijian owners instead of
being able to buy it outright.

In 2005 and 2006, tensions rose between Bainimarama and Qarase over
legislation proposed by the Qarase government concerning land ownership,
traditional non-public ownership of the foreshore, and the possible granting
of immunity to some coup participants from 2000. Bainimarama began to make
demands and threats, and engaged in shows of military force to intimidate the
Qarase government into backing away from the controversial policies. When the
Qarase government did not accede to all military demands, on December 5,
2006, Bainimarama assumed the powers of the presidency, dismissed Parliament,
and declared a temporary military government.

Commodore Bainimarama's interim government has pursued what he terms a
"clean-up campaign" to root out what he considers to be large-scale
corruption in Fiji. A number of civil servants, including the Chief Justice,
were summarily suspended or dismissed due to unidentified corruption
concerns. Many individuals who spoke out against the coup were taken to
military camps where they have been questioned and sometimes abused.

ECONOMY
Fiji is one of the more developed of the Pacific island economies, although
it remains a developing country with a large subsistence agriculture sector.
For many years sugar and textile exports drove Fiji's economy. However,
neither industry is competing effectively in globalized markets. Fiji's sugar
industry suffers from quality concerns, poor administration, and the phasing
out of a preferential price agreement with the European Union beginning in
2006/2007. The European Union has promised a large amount of financial aid to
assist the ailing sugar industry, but, post-coup, has clarified that the aid
will only be forthcoming if Fiji cleans up its human rights situation and
moves quickly to democracy.

In 2005, the textile industry in Fiji markedly declined following the end of
the quota system under the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) and the
full integration of textiles into WTO General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.
The income from garments plummeted by 43% in 2005 with the end of the ATC
quotas. Garments now account for approximately 12% of Fiji's exports and
sugar approximately 24%. Other important export crops include coconuts and
ginger, although production levels of both are declining. Fiji has extensive
mahogany timber reserves, which are only now being exploited. Fishing is an
important export and local food source.

Gold is also exported. However, in December 2006, gold mining ceased when
Fiji's biggest mine, the Vatukuola Emperor gold mine, closed. The mine
changed ownership in March 2007, and there are some indications that it could
be operational again before the end of 2007.

The most important manufacturing activities are the processing of sugar and
fish. Since 2000 the export of still mineral water, mainly to the United
States, has expanded rapidly. By the end of 2006, water exports totaled
around U.S. $52 million per year, an increase of 28% over 2005 and an
increase of 775% since 2000.

Recent estimates for 2005 show a GDP growth rate of 1.7%. The estimate for
2007 is minus 2.5%.

In recent years, growth in Fiji has been largely driven by a strong tourism
industry. Tourism has expanded rapidly since the early 1980s and is the
leading economic activity in the islands. Approximately 550,000 people
visited Fiji in 2005. However, the December 2006 coup caused a major drop-off
in tourist arrivals. The tourism industry responded by introducing cut-rate
packages, but even with the discounts there were only 25,000 tourist arrivals
in January 2007 as compared to 40,000 in January 2006. The economic downturn
has caused thousands to lose their jobs, especially casual or seasonal
workers in the tourist industry.

About one-third of Fiji's visitors come from Australia, with large
contingents also coming from New Zealand, the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Japan. In 2005, more than 70,000, or around 13%, of the tourists
were American, a number that has steadily increased since the start of
regularly scheduled nonstop air service from Los Angeles. In 2004, Fiji's
gross earnings from tourism were about $418 million, an amount double the
revenue from its two largest goods exports (sugar and garments). Gross
earnings from tourism continue to be Fiji's major source of foreign currency.

Fiji runs a persistently large trade deficit, F$1.94 billion (U.S. $1.17
billion) for 2006, although tourism revenues yield a services surplus.
Australia accounts for between 25% and 35% of Fiji's foods trade, with New
Zealand, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan varying
year-by-year between 5% and 20% each. Since the 1960s, Fiji has had a high
rate of emigration, particularly of Indo-Fijians in search of better economic
opportunities. This has been particularly true of persons with education and
skills. The economic and political uncertainties following the coups have
added to the outward flow by persons of all ethnic groups. In recent years,
indigenous Fijians also have begun to emigrate in large numbers, often to
seek employment as home health care workers. Remittances from overseas
workers, often undocumented, are second only to tourism as a source of
foreign exchange earnings. Fiji is also attempting to brand itself as a
potential movie-filming site and has been the location of a small number of
feature films.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Fiji has traditionally had close relations with its major trading partners
Australia and New Zealand. Currently, a number of countries including
Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have placed targeted sanctions
on the illegal interim government. Fiji has pursued closer relations with a
number of Asian countries, including the People's Republic of China and
India.

Since independence, Fiji has been a leader in the South Pacific region. Fiji
hosts the secretariat of the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum, as well as a
number of other prestigious regional organizations. In 2002, Fiji hosted the
Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Summit with more than 80 countries
represented. During the ACP Summit, the Nadi Declaration was adopted
regarding economic cooperation with the European Union. In July 2003, Fiji
hosted the South Pacific Games, a prestigious event that went far beyond
athletics and symbolized the country's return to normalcy. In September 2005,
Fiji hosted the 51st Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference. Fiji
became the 127th member of the United Nations on October 13, 1970, and
participates actively in the organization. Fiji's contributions to UN
peacekeeping are unique for a nation of its size. It maintains about 600
soldiers and police overseas in UN peacekeeping missions, with MFO Sinai in
the Middle East, East Timor, and Iraq. Fiji also has a number of private
citizens working in Iraq and Kuwait, mostly in security services.

U.S.-FIJI RELATIONS
Relations between the elected government of Fiji and the United States were
excellent. The United States has not recognized the interim government
established by the illegal December 5, 2006 coup. Fiji maintains an embassy
in Washington DC, as well as a Permanent Mission in New York at the United
Nations. Although the United States provides relatively little direct
bilateral development assistance, it contributes as a major member of a
number of multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the
Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The U.S. Peace Corps, temporarily
withdrawn from Fiji in 1998, resumed its program in Fiji in late 2003.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Larry M. Dinger
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ted A. Mann
Political/Economic/Commercial Affairs--Brian J. Siler
Consul--Debra J. Towry
Management Officer--Ila S. Jurisson
Regional Environmental Officer--Joseph P. Murphy
Regional Security Officer--Jim T. Suor
The U.S. Embassy in Fiji is located at 31 Loftus Street, Suva; tel:
679-331-4466, fax: 679-330-0081. The mailing address is U.S. Embassy, P.O.
Box 218, Suva, Fiji.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/
Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security
conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

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, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, 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.

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. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

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. ***********************************************************
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
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