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Agriculture (including fishing) employed 79
percent of the working population and
contributed an estimated 14 percent of GDP in
1996. Much agricultural production goes to
provide food for the families producing it. The
major agricultural products are copra, taro,
bread-fruit, sweet potatoes, and vegetables;
fishing is another major source of food for
I-Kiribati. The principal cash crop is coconuts
yielding copra, which accounted for an estimated
60 percent of merchandise export earnings in
1998. Bananas, screw-pine, breadfruit (a round
seedless fruit from the mulberry family whose
texture resembles bread when cooked), and papaya
are also cultivated as food crops. Seaweed
provided an estimated 8 percent of domestic
export earnings in 1998. Pigs, chickens, and
cattle are the most common agricultural
livestock. Most of the land is farmed, and
agriculture accounts for 51 percent of
The 33 atolls that make up Kiribati - the former Gilbert Islands - occupy a vast area in the Pacific. They stretch nearly 4,000 km from east to west, more than 2,000 km from north to south, and straddle the Equator.
The country won independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Many of the atolls are inhabited; most of them are very low-lying and at risk from rising sea levels.
Kiribati used to lie either side of the International Date Line, but the government unilaterally moved the line eastwards in 1995 to ensure the day was the same in the whole country.
Rising sea levels threaten the low-lying islands
This was a shrewd move as Kiribati marketed itself as the first inhabited place on Earth to greet the new millennium on 1 January 2000. The world's media descended on Caroline Island, renamed Millennium Island, to record the event.
Kiribati's economy is weak and is affected by rises and falls in the world demand for coconut.
Fishing licences, foreign aid and money sent home by workers abroad also play their part, as does a trust fund set up with revenues from phosphate mining on the island of Banaba. The mines were depleted by 1980, precipitating the evacuation of much of the population.
Kiribati is home to the South Pacific's largest marine reserve.
Anote Tong narrowly defeated his older brother, Harry, in presidential elections in July 2003 and was re-elected for a second term in October 2007.
President Anote Tong
The presence of a Chinese satellite tracking base in Kiribati was a key issue in the campaign. Beijing subsequently dismantled the station after Kiribati established diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The president has also highlighted the "very real" threat to the country from climate change and rising sea levels. In 2005 he identified rapidly-rising population levels and youth unemployment as challenges for Kiribati.
The president is also head of the government. Parliament has 42 members, one of whom represents evacuees from Banaba who now live on Rabi, in Fiji.
Freedom of speech and of the media is generally respected. The government-run radio station and newspaper offer diverse views. Both Protestant and Catholic churches publish newsletters and periodicals; these are important sources of information. There is no domestic television service.
Former President Ieremia Tabai was blocked from setting up Kiribati's first private radio station, Newair FM 101, in 2000. The directors were fined for operating an unlicensed radio station. They subsequently set up the country's first private weekly newspaper, the Kiribati New Star.