Northern Mariana Islands

Flag of Northern Mariana Islands

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Under US administration as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.


Oceania, islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines

Geographic coordinates:

15 12 N, 145 45 E


total: 477 sq km
note: includes 14 islands including Saipan, Rota, and Tinian
water: 0 sq km
land: 477 sq km


tropical marine; moderated by northeast trade winds, little seasonal temperature variation; dry season December to June, rainy season July to October


southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; northern islands are volcanic

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Agrihan 965 m

Natural resources:

arable land, fish

Land use:

arable land: 13.04%
permanent crops: 4.35%
other: 82.61% (2001)

Natural hazards:

active volcanoes on Pagan and Agrihan; typhoons (especially August to November)

Environment - current issues:

contamination of groundwater on Saipan may contribute to disease; clean-up of landfill; protection of endangered species conflicts with development

Geography - note:

strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean


78,252 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

Chamorro, Carolinians and other Micronesians, Caucasian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean


Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)


English, Chamorro, Carolinian
note: 86% of population speaks a language other than English at home

Dependency status:

commonwealth in political union with the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs

Government type:

commonwealth; self-governing with locally elected governor, lieutenant governor, and legislature



Administrative divisions:

none (commonwealth in political union with the US); there are no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are four municipalities at the second order; Northern Islands, Rota, Saipan, Tinian


none (commonwealth in political union with the US)

National holiday:

Commonwealth Day, 8 January (1978)


Covenant Agreement effective 4 November 1986 and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands effective 1 January 1978

Legal system:

based on US system, except for customs, wages, immigration laws, and taxation

Economy - overview:

The economy benefits substantially from financial assistance from the US. The rate of funding has declined as locally generated government revenues have grown. The key tourist industry employs about 50% of the work force and accounts for roughly one-fourth of GDP. Japanese tourists predominate. Annual tourist entries have exceeded one-half million in recent years, but financial difficulties in Japan have caused a temporary slowdown. The agricultural sector is made up of cattle ranches and small farms producing coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons. Garment production is by far the most important industry with employment of 17,500 mostly Chinese workers and sizable shipments to the US under duty and quota exemptions.

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

1.2% (1997 est.)

Labor force:

6,006 total indigenous labor force; 2,699 unemployed; 28,717 foreign workers (June 1995)

Agriculture - products:

coconuts, fruits, vegetables; cattle


tourism, construction, garments, handicrafts

Exports - commodities:


Imports - commodities:

food, construction equipment and materials, petroleum products


US dollar (USD)

Telephones - main lines in use:

21,000 (2000)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

3,000 (2000)

Telephone system:

general assessment: NA
domestic: NA
international: country code - 1-670; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Pacific Ocean)


total: 362 km
paved: NA km
unpaved: NA km (1991)

Ports and harbors:

Saipan, Tinian

Merchant marine:



6 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 3
under 914 m: 2 (2003 est.)
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1


1 (2003 est.)