For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Papua New Guinea flag: divided diagonally from upper left corner. Upper triangle: red with a yellow bird of paradise; lower triangle: black with Southern Cross constellation-5 white, 5-pointed stars.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Independent State of Papua New Guinea

Geography
Land area: 452,860 sq. km.; about the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Port Moresby (est. pop. 320,000). Other cities--Lae (90,000), Mt. Hagen (71,000).
Terrain: Mostly mountains with coastal lowlands and rolling foothills. The majority of the people live in fertile highlands valleys, unknown to the outside world until the 1930's but supported agriculture some 10,00- years ago, contemporary with that in the Fertile Crescent.
Climate: Tropical. NW monsoon, Dec-Mar. SE monsoon, May-Oct.

People
Population (2003 est.): 5.3 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.34%.
Languages: English (official) , Tok Pisin, Motu , and about 800 other languages.
Education: Years compulsory--0. Literacy--Men: 71.1%; Women: 57.7%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--56.1/1,000. Life expectancy--58.6 yrs.

Government
Type: Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: September 16, 1975.
Branches: Executive--British monarch (chief of state), represented by governor general; prime minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral parliament. Judicial--independent; highest is Supreme Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 19 provinces and the national capital district (Port Moresby).
Major political parties: National Alliance (NA), People's Progress Party (PPP), Pangu Parti, People's Democratic Movement (PDM), and Melanesian Alliance (MA).
Suffrage: Universal over 18 years of age.

Economy (2003 est.)
GDP: US$1.23 billion.
Growth rate: (2003 est.) minus 2.0% (IMF).
Per capita GDP: US$580. Natural resources: Gold, copper ore, oil, natural gas, timber, fish.
Agriculture (26% of GDP): Major products--coffee, cocoa, coconuts, palm oil, timber, tea, vanilla.
Industry (42% of GDP): Major sectors--copra crushing; palm oil processing; plywood production; wood chip production; mining of gold, silver, and copper; construction; tourism; crude oil production.
Trade (2001): Exports--47.5% of GDP: gold, copper ore, oil, timber, palm oil, coffee. Major markets--Australia, Japan, Germany, U.K., South Korea, China. Imports--46.1% of GDP: machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuels, chemicals. Major suppliers--Australia, Singapore, Japan, U.S., New Zealand, Malaysia.

PEOPLE
The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in low-scale tribal warfare with their neighbors for millennia. The advent of modern weapons and modern migration patterns has greatly magnified the impact of this lawlessness.

The isolation created by the mountainous terrain is so great that some groups, until recently, were unaware of the existence of neighboring groups only a few kilometers away. The diversity, reflected in a folk saying, "For each village, a different culture," is perhaps best shown in the local languages. Spoken mainly on the island of New Guinea--composed of Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of West Papua--about 650 of these languages have been identified; of these, only 350-450 are related. The remainder seem to be totally unrelated either to each other or to the other major groupings. Most native languages are spoken by a few hundred to a few thousand, although Enga, used in Enga Province, is spoken by some 130,000 people. [However, the Enga are subdivided into clans that regularly conflict with each other.] Many native languages are extremely complex grammatically.

Melanesian Pidgin serves as the lingua franca. English is spoken by educated people and in Milne Bay Province.

The overall population density is low, although pockets of overpopulation exist. Papua New Guinea's Western Province averages one person per square kilometer (3 per sq. mi.). The Chimbu Province in the New Guinea highlands averages 20 persons per square kilometer (60 per sq. mi.) and has areas containing up to 200 people farming a square kilometer of land. The highlands have 40% of the population.

A considerable urban drift toward Port Moresby and other major centers has occurred in recent years. The trend toward urbanization accelerated in the 1990s, bringing in its wake squatter settlements, ethnic disputes, unemployment, and attendant social problems.

Almost two-thirds of the population is Christian. Of these, more than 700,000 are Catholic, more than 500,000 Lutheran, and the balance are members of other Protestant denominations. Although the major churches are under indigenous leadership, a large number of missionaries remain in the country. The bulk of the estimated 2,500 Americans resident in Papua New Guinea are missionaries and their families. The non-Christian portion of the indigenous population practices a wide variety of religions that are an integral part of traditional culture, mainly animism (spirit worship) and ancestor cults.

Foreign residents comprise about 1% of the population. More than half are Australian; others are from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States, most of whom are missionaries. Since independence, about 900 foreigners have become naturalized citizens.

Though cultures vary widely, traditional Papua New Guinea social structures generally include the following characteristics:

  • The practice of subsistence economy;
  • Recognition of bonds of kinship with obligations extending beyond the immediate family group;
  • Generally egalitarian relationships with an emphasis on acquired, rather than inherited, status; and
  • A strong attachment of the people to land, which is held communally. Traditional communities do not recognize a permanent transfer of ownership when land is sold.
  • Though land and other possessions may be inherited through the female line in some cultures, women generally are considered and treated as inferiors. Gender violence is endemic.
  • Patterns and frequency of sexual activity, though never publicly discussed, contribute to the current rapid spread of HIV.

Most Papua New Guineans still adhere strongly to this traditional social structure, which has its roots in village life.

HISTORY
Archeological evidence indicates that humans arrived on New Guinea at least 60,000 years ago, probably by sea from Southeast Asia during an Ice Age period when the sea was lower and distances between islands shorter. Although the first arrivals were hunters and gatherers, early evidence shows that people managed the forest environment to provide food. There also are indications of gardening having been practiced at the same time that agriculture was developing in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Early garden crops--many of which are indigenous--included sugarcane, Pacific bananas, yams, and taros, while sago and pandanus were two commonly exploited native forest crops. Today's staples--sweet potatoes and pigs--were later arrivals, but shellfish and fish have long been mainstays of coastal dwellers' diets.

When Europeans first arrived, inhabitants of New Guinea and nearby islands--while still relying on bone, wood, and stone tools--had a productive agricultural system. They traded along the coast, where products mainly were pottery, shell ornaments, and foodstuffs, and in the interior, where forest products were exchanged for shells and other sea products.

The first Europeans to sight New Guinea were probably the Portuguese and Spanish navigators sailing in the South Pacific in the early part of the 16th century. In 1526-27, Don Jorge de Meneses accidentally came upon the principal island and is credited with naming it "Papua," a Malay word for the frizzled quality of Melanesian hair. The term "New Guinea" was applied to the island in 1545 by a Spaniard, ��igo Ortiz de Retes, because of a fancied resemblance between the islands' inhabitants and those found on the African Guinea coast. Although European navigators visited the islands and explored their coastlines for the next 170 years, little was known of the inhabitants until the late 19th century.

New Guinea
With Europe's growing need for coconut oil, Godeffroy's of Hamburg, the largest trading firm in the Pacific, began trading for copra in the New Guinea Islands. In 1884, Germany formally took possession of the northeast quarter of the island and put its administration in the hands of a chartered company. In 1899, the German imperial government assumed direct control of the territory, thereafter known as German New Guinea. In 1914, Australian troops occupied German New Guinea, and it remained under Australian military control until 1921. The British Government, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, assumed a mandate from the League of Nations for governing the Territory of New Guinea in 1920. It was administered under this mandate until the Japanese invasion in December 1941 brought about the suspension of Australian civil administration. Following the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, civil administration of Papua as well as New Guinea was restored, and under the Papua New Guinea Provisional Administration Act, 1945-46, Papua and New Guinea were combined in an administrative union.

Papua
On November 6, 1884, a British protectorate was proclaimed over the southern coast of New Guinea (the area called Papua) and its adjacent islands. The protectorate, called British New Guinea, was annexed outright on September 4, 1888. The possession was placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1902. Following the passage of the Papua Act of 1905, British New Guinea became the Territory of Papua, and formal Australian administration began in 1906. Papua was administered under the Papua Act until the Japanese invaded the northern parts of the islands in1941 and began to advance on Port Moresby and civil administration was suspended. During the war, Papua was governed by a military administration from Port Moresby, where Gen. Douglas MacArthur occasionally made his headquarters. As noted, it was later joined in an administrative union with New Guinea during 1945-46 following the surrender of Japan.

Postwar Developments
The Papua and New Guinea Act of 1949 formally approved the placing of New Guinea under the international trusteeship system and confirmed the administrative union of New Guinea and Papua under the title of "The Territory of Papua and New Guinea." The act provided for a Legislative Council (established in 1951), a judicial organization, a public service, and a system of local government. A House of Assembly replaced the Legislative Council in 1963, and the first House of Assembly opened on June 8, 1964. In 1972, the name of the territory was changed to Papua New Guinea.

Elections in 1972 resulted in the formation of a ministry headed by Chief Minister Michael Somare, who pledged to lead the country to self-government and then to independence. Papua New Guinea became self-governing in December 1973 and achieved independence on September 16, 1975. The 1977 national elections confirmed Michael Somare as Prime Minister at the head of a coalition led by the Pangu Party. However, his government lost a vote of confidence in 1980 and was replaced by a new cabinet headed by Sir Julius Chan as Prime Minister. The 1982 elections increased Pangu's plurality, and parliament again chose Somare as Prime Minister. In November 1985, the Somare government lost a vote of no confidence, and the parliamentary majority elected Paias Wingti, at the head of a five-party coalition, as Prime Minister. A coalition, headed by Wingti, was victorious in very close elections in July 1987. In July 1988, a no-confidence vote toppled Wingti and brought to power Rabbie Namaliu, who a few weeks earlier had replaced Somare as leader of the Pangu Party.

Such reversals of fortune and a revolving-door succession of Prime Ministers continue to characterize Papua New Guinea's national politics. A plethora of political parties, coalition governments, shifting party loyalties and motions of no confidence in the leadership all lend an air of instability to political proceedings. For the first 27 years of independence, a "first past the post" electoral system resulted in many parliamentarians elected with less than 15 percent of their constituency. Fractious politics and a 75% loss rate for incumbents precluded the development of strong political parties or a stable national leadership. Many hope that limited preferential voting, introduced in 2003, and an organic law on political parties will stabilize national politics.

The 2002 elections returned Somare as Prime Minister at the head of a coalition including Rabbie Namaliu as his Foreign Minister. The next national elections are scheduled for 2007.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Papua New Guinea, a constitutional monarchy, recognizes the Queen of England as head of state. She is represented by a Governor General who is elected by Parliament and who performs mainly ceremonial functions. Papua New Guinea has three levels of government--national, provincial, and local. There is a 109-member unicameral Parliament, whose members are elected every 5 years. The Parliament in turn elects the prime minister, who appoints his cabinet from members of his party or coalition.

Members of Parliament are elected from 19 provinces and the national capital district of Port Moresby. Parliament introduced reforms in June 1995 to change the provincial government system, with regional (at-large) members of Parliament becoming provincial governors, while retaining their national seats in Parliament.

Papua New Guinea's judiciary is independent of the government. It protects constitutional rights and interprets the laws. There are several levels, culminating in the Supreme Court.

Papua New Guinea's politics are highly competitive with most members elected on a personal and ethnic basis within their constituencies rather than as a result of party affiliation. Members of Parliament have been are elected on a "first past the post" system, with winners frequently gaining less than 15% of the vote. There are several parties, but party allegiances are not strong. Winning candidates are usually courted in efforts to forge the majority needed to form a government, and allegiances are fluid. No single party has yet won enough seats to form a government in its own right. As the majority of Parliamentarians do not retain their seats (75% lost in 2002), party structure is weak and national leadership is not stable. The current government was formed by a coalition of several parties after the 2002 election in which virtually the entire previous cabinet lost their seats. Sir Michael Somare, the leader of the Melanesian Alliance (and the nation's first Prime Minister in 1975), was elected Prime Minister.

PNG has a history of changes in government coalitions and leadership from within Parliament during the 5 year intervals between national elections. New governments are protected by law from votes of no confidence for the first 18 months of their incumbency, and no votes of no confidence may be moved in the 12 months preceding a national election. In an effort to create greater stability by reducing incessant votes of no confidence, the Integrity of Political Parties Act was passed in 1999, forbidding members of each party in Parliament from shifting loyalty to another party.

In 2003, the electoral system was changed to limited preferential voting, which many hope will encourage politicians to strike alliances and to be responsive to constituent concerns once elected. The new system was first used in a 2004 by-election with modest, but positive results.

On Bougainville Island, a 10 year rebellion was halted by a truce in 1997 and a permanent cease-fire was signed in April 1998. A peace agreement between the Government and ex-combatants was signed in August 2001. Under the eyes of a regional peace-monitoring force and a UN observer mission, the government and provincial leaders have established an interim administration and are working toward complete surrender/destruction of weapons. A constitution has been drafted and the next step should be an election of a provincial government.

Principal Government Officials
Governor General--Sir Paulias Matane
Prime Minister--Sir Michael Somare
Foreign Minister--Sir Rabbie Namaliu
Ambassador to the United Nations--Robert Aisi
Ambassador to the United States--Evan Paki

Papua New Guinea maintains an embassy at 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202-745-3680; fax 202-745-3679). The Papua New Guinea mission to the United Nations is at 801 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-682-6447).

ECONOMY
Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources, including minerals, timber, and fish, and produces a variety of commercial agricultural products. The economy generally can be separated into subsistence and market sectors, although the distinction is blurred by smallholder cash cropping of coffee, cocoa, and copra. About 75% of the country's population relies primarily on the subsistence economy. The minerals, timber, and fish sectors are dominated by foreign investors. Manufacturing is limited, and the formal labor sector consequently also is limited. High commodity prices in 2004 lifted both sectors after several years of declines.

Mineral Resources
Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with gold, copper, oil, natural gas, and other minerals. In 2001 mineral production accounted for 25% of GDP. This will inevitably decline as old discoveries are mined out. Years of sluggish exploration mean that few new deposits will be open in the coming years. However, recent regulatory and tax reform have led to a resumption of exploration which may boost the sector in the out years. Government revenues and foreign exchange earning have depended depend heavily on mineral exports. Indigenous landowners in areas affected by minerals projects also receive royalties from those operations. Copper and gold mines are currently in production at Progera, Ok Tedi, Misima, and Lihir. A consortium led by Mobil/Exxon hopes to begin the commercialization of the country's estimated 22.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves through the construction of a gas pipeline from Papua New Guinea to Queensland, Australia, however, the project has been stalled until major customers make purchase commitments. Interoil, an American firm, opened PNG's first oil refinery in 2004. It will produce 30,000 barrels of product a day, covering all of PNG's domestic requirements and leaving 15,000 b/d for export.

Agriculture, Timber, and Fish
Papua New Guinea also produces and exports valuable agricultural, timber, and fish products. Agriculture currently accounts for 30.4% of GDP and supports more than 85% of the population. Cash crops ranked by value are coffee, oil, cocoa, copra, tea, rubber, and sugar. About 40% of the country is covered with exploitable trees, and a domestic woodworking industry has been slow to develop. A number of South East Asian companies are active in the timber industry, but World Bank and other donors have withdrawn support from the sector over concern for unregulated deforestation and environmental damage. Although an official moratorium on log exports is currently in place, it is poorly enforced and logging continues at an unsustainable rate. PNG has an active tuna industry but much of the catch is made by boats of other nations fishing in PNG waters under license. Locally produced fish exports are confined primarily to shrimp.

Industry
In general, the Papua New Guinea economy is highly dependent on imports for manufactured goods. Its industrial sector--exclusive of mining--accounts for only 9% of GDP and contributes little to exports. Small-scale industries produce beer, soap, concrete products, clothing, paper products, matches, ice cream, canned meat, fruit juices, furniture, plywood, and paint. The small domestic market, relatively high wages, and high transport costs are constraints to industrial development.

Trade and Investment
Australia, Singapore, and Japan are the principal exporters to Papua New Guinea. Petroleum and mining machinery and aircraft have been the strongest U.S. exports to Papua New Guinea. These have slipped as mineral exploration and new minerals investments have declined.

Australia is Papua New Guinea's most important export market, followed by Japan and the European Union. The U.S. imports from PNG modest amounts of gold, copper ore, cocoa, coffee, and other agricultural products.

With the 2003 withdrawal of Chevron/Texaco, Australian companies are the most active in developing Papua New Guinea's mining and petroleum sectors. Exxon/Mobil retains a major share of natural gas reserves and is interested in building a pipeline to Australia. Interoil, an American firm backed by an OPIC loan, operates a 30,000-barrel a day refinery in Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea became a participating economy in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in 1993. It joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1996. It is an observer at ASEAN and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Development Programs and Aid
Australia is by far the largest bilateral aid donor to Papua New Guinea, offering about $300 million a year in assistance. Budgetary support, which has been provided in decreasing amounts since independence, was phased out in 2000, with aid concentrated on project development. In 2004, Australia and PNG reached agreement on the Enhanced Cooperation Program under which Australia will provide direct assistance, including 210 line police officers, to the PNG constabulary. Other major sources of aid to Papua New Guinea are Japan, the European Union, the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China, the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. Volunteers from a number of countries and mission church workers also provide education, health, and development assistance throughout the country. (Approaching $75 per capita, foreign assistance to PNG is substantial.) The U.S. funds a small HIV/AIDS project in PNG.

Current Economic Conditions
After years of decline and government deficit, PNG was bolstered in 2003/2004 by a general rise in commodity prices and by government steps toward spending control. The economy grew modestly and the government deficit fell from 8% of GDP to 1.7%. However, the commodity boom will be temporary and the nation continues to have serious problems of corruption, a lack of law and order, land tenure concerns stifling investment, political interference in businesses, and a lack of political will to adapt needed sweeping reforms. Mining output and oil production have led a general decline in output of the modern economy though some see long term hope in a resumption of exploration after recent regulatory reform.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Papua New Guinea's foreign policy reflects close ties with Australia and other traditional allies. PNG is by far the largest Pacific Island nation and has traditionally viewed itself as part of the Pacific. However, in recent years it has also been cultivating relations with Asian nations. Its views on international political and economic issues are generally moderate. Papua New Guinea has diplomatic relations with 56 countries.

U.S.-PAPUA NEW GUINEA RELATIONS
The United States and Papua New Guinea established diplomatic relations upon the latter's independence on September 16, 1975. The two nations belong to a variety of regional organizations, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum; the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); the South Pacific Commission; and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Program (SPREP).

One of the most successful cooperative multilateral efforts linking the U.S. and Papua New Guinea is the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral Tuna Fisheries Treaty, under which the U.S. grants $18 million per year to Pacific Island parties and the latter provide access for U.S. fishing vessels. The United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance to Papua New Guinea during the past 5 years and has contributed to the rehabilitation of Bougainville. USAID supports a small HIV/AIDS project in PNG.

The U.S. also supports Papua New Guinea's efforts to protect biodiversity. The U.S. Government supports the International Coral Reef Initiative aimed at protecting reefs in tropical nations such as Papua New Guinea. U.S. military forces, through the Pacific Theater Command in Honolulu, Hawaii, provide some training to the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF) and have held small-scale joint training exercises. The U.S. also provides police and other education and training courses to national security officials.

The U.S. Peace Corps ceased operations in Papua New Guinea in 2001 due to security concerns. About 2,500 U.S. citizens live in Papua New Guinea, with major concentrations at two missionary headquarters in Eastern Highlands Province.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Robert Fitts
Deputy Chief of Mission--Thomas Niblock
Economic Officer-- Eric Catalfamo
Consular Officer-- Leslie Livingood

The U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea is located on Douglas Street, Port Moresby (tel. 675-321-1455; fax 675-321-3423). The mailing address is 4240 Port Moresby Pl., U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-4240.

[This is a mobile copy of Papua New Guinea (09/04)]