New Caledonia

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Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864. Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s has dissipated.


Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia

Geographic coordinates:

21 30 S, 165 30 E


total: 19,060 sq km
water: 485 sq km
land: 18,575 sq km


tropical; modified by southeast trade winds; hot, humid


coastal plains with interior mountains

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Panie 1,628 m

Natural resources:

nickel, chrome, iron, cobalt, manganese, silver, gold, lead, copper

Land use:

arable land: 0.38%
permanent crops: 0.33%
other: 99.29% (2001)

Irrigated land:

160 sq km (1991)

Natural hazards:

cyclones, most frequent from November to March

Environment - current issues:

erosion caused by mining exploitation and forest fires

Geography - note:

consists of the main island of New Caledonia (one of the largest in the Pacific Ocean), the archipelago of Iles Loyaute, and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls


213,679 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

Melanesian 42.5%, European 37.1%, Wallisian 8.4%, Polynesian 3.8%, Indonesian 3.6%, Vietnamese 1.6%, other 3%


Roman Catholic 60%, Protestant 30%, other 10%


French (official), 33 Melanesian-Polynesian dialects

Dependency status:

overseas territory of France since 1956


none (overseas territory of France); note - a referendum on independence was held in 1998 but did not pass; a new referendum is scheduled for 2014

National holiday:

Bastille Day, 14 July (1789)

Legal system:

the 1988 Matignon Accords grant substantial autonomy to the islands; formerly under French law

Economy - overview:

New Caledonia has about 25% of the world's known nickel resources. Only a small amount of the land is suitable for cultivation, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. In addition to nickel, substantial financial support from France - equal to more than one-fourth of GDP - and tourism are keys to the health of the economy. Substantial new investment in the nickel industry, combined with the recovery of global nickel prices, brightens the economic outlook for the next several years.

Labor force:

79,400 (including 15,018 unemployed, 1996)

Agriculture - products:

vegetables; beef, deer, other livestock products


nickel mining and smelting

Exports - commodities:

ferronickels, nickel ore, fish

Exports - partners:

Japan 21.8%, France 19.2%, Taiwan 14%, Spain 11%, South Korea 8.5%, Australia 7.2%, Italy 5.1% (2003 est.)

Imports - commodities:

machinery and equipment, fuels, chemicals, foodstuffs

Imports - partners:

France 46.1%, Australia 9.5%, Singapore 9.3%, New Zealand 4.3% (2003 est.)


Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique franc (XPF); note - may adopt the euro in 2003

Telephones - main lines in use:

52,000 (2002)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

80,000 (2002)


total: 4,825 km
paved: 2,287 km
unpaved: 2,538 km (1999)

Ports and harbors:

Mueo, Noumea, Thio

Merchant marine:

total: 1 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 1,261 GRT/1,600 DWT
registered in other countries: 1 (2003 est.)
foreign-owned: Malaysia 1
by type: cargo 1


25 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 11
over 3,047 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 8
under 914 m: 2 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 14
914 to 1,523 m: 8
under 914 m: 6 (2003 est.)


6 (2003 est.)

Military branches:

no regular indigenous military forces; French Armed Forces (including Army, Navy, Air Force, Gendarmerie); Police Force

Military - note:

defence is the responsibility of France

Disputes - international:

Matthew and Hunter Islands east of New Caledonia claimed by France and Vanuatu