U.S. Department of State Background Note
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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 capital, however, relocated in 2006 from Koror to a newly constructed complex in Melekeok State on the larger but less developed island of Babeldaob--the second largest island in all of Micronesia after Guam.
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 this eventually dissolved as the individual districts--long culturally distinct--opted for more locally popular status. Palau approved a new constitution in 1981, subsequently 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.
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 States' 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, comprising the highest traditional chiefs from each of the 16 states, is an advisory body to the president. The Council is consulted on matters concerning traditional laws and customs.
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court--with trial and appellate divisions--the Court of Common Pleas, and the Land Court. (Palau's constitution has a provision for an additional National Court, but this is not currently active.)
The current president, Tommy Remengesau, was re-elected for a second term on November 2, 2004, an election that also brought into office Vice President Elias Camsek Chin and several political newcomers to the Senate and the House.
Principal Government Officials
Palau maintains an embassy at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20006 (tel: 202-452-6814, fax: 202-452-6281). The Republic of Palau's 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).
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.
Tourism (and its attendant infrastructure changes) is Palau's main industry. Its major draws are its diverse and pristine marine environment, and its above-water tropical island beauty. The number of visitors--75% of whom come from Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S.--exceeded 100,000 in 2006, a 15% increase from 2005. Continental Airlines, Far Eastern Transport (FAT), and Asian Spirit have direct flights to Palau from Guam, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Japan Airlines runs chartered flights from Tokyo. In 2002--the last year for which figures are available--tourist spending in Palau was $66 million. Palauan tourism and environmental authorities would like to adjust the industry, simultaneously decreasing tourist volume and increasing income while by attracting more high-dollar tourists.
The service sector dominates the Palauan economy, contributing more than 50% of GDP and employing more than half of the work force. The government alone employs nearly 25% of workers and accounts for 23% of the GDP. 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. Total U.S. grant income in 2006 was $23.7 million.
Construction is an important industrial activity, contributing over 15% of GDP. Several large infrastructure projects, including the Compact Road, relocation of the new capital, and new hotels, have boosted this sector's recent contribution to GDP.
Agriculture is mainly on a subsistence level, the principal crops being coconuts, taro, and bananas. Fishing is a potential source of revenue, but the islands' tuna output dropped by over one-third during the 1990s. Fishing industry revenues are mostly from license fees from fishing vessels.
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.
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, and is one of two dozen nations that have diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Palau was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1994, and has since joined a number of other international organizations.
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
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 citizens traveling 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
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.
Revised: Jun. 2007