The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a group of 14 islands in the Pacific Northwest. Spain proclaimed sovereignty over the islands in the 16th century. Early European settlers brought diseases, which nearly decimated the indigenous population. The islands then moved from German to the Japanese control in the 20th century. After fierce battling during World War II that resulted in deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians, the Japanese lost control of the main island, Saipan, to American forces in June 1944. The US used the island of Tinian as staging post for the 1945 atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war, the US governed the islands as a UN-mandated Pacific trust territory. Following negotiations, the people of the Mariana Islands agreed to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US in March 1976. CNMI residents are American citizens and the islands receive millions of dollars of US aid.
CNMI’s economy relies on clothing exports and tourists, especially those from Japan. Despite its direct contacts with the US, CNMI is exempt from US minimum wage and immigration laws. This has benefited the billion-dollar garment trade industry, since it employs migrant workers from countries such as China and the Philippines. In fact, migrants workers outnumber the indigenous Chamarro and Carolinian populations.
The islands' clothing industry was hit hard in 2005 when the US scrapped import quotas on Chinese-made garments. Soon after, Japan Airlines ended flights to the territory, damaging the tourist trade and adding to the island’s economic troubles.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Form of Government:
Commonwealth in political union with the US; federal funds to the Commonwealth administered by the US Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs
Year of Independence:
None (commonwealth in political union with the US)
Christian (Roman Catholic majority, although traditional beliefs and taboos may still be found)
457 sq km (176 sq miles)
Philippine languages 24.4%, Chinese 23.4%, Chamorro 22.4%, English 10.8%, other Pacific island languages 9.5%, other 9.6% (2000 census)
74 years (men), 79 years (women)
1 US dollar = 100 cents
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$12,500 (2000 est.)
International Dialing Code: