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Country Facts

Area: 10,991 sq km
Population: 2.8 million (2010 est)
Capital City: Kingston (pop 652,000)
People: African 90.9%, East Indian 1.3%, Chinese 0.2%, White 0.2%, Mixed 7.3%, Other 0.1%
Languages: English, Patois
Education: Mandatory and free up to age 16
Religions: Christian including Anglican, Baptist and other Protestant; Roman Catholic; Rastafarian; Jewish; Seventh Day Adventists
Currency: Jamaican dollar (JMD) 140 JMD to the UK pound (January 2010)
Major Political Parties: Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), People's National Party (PNP)
Government: Constitutional parliamentary democracy. Independence: 6 August 1962
Head of State: HM Queen Elizabeth, represented by the Governor-General, The Most Hon Sir Patrick Allen
Prime Minister: The Hon Portia Simpson MillerMP (PNP)
Foreign Minister: The Hon A J NicholsonMP (PNP)


Birth Rate: 19.47 births/1000 (2010 est)
Death Rate: 6,48 births/1000 (2010 est)
Life expectancy: 73 years


Adult prevalence rate: 1.5% (2007)

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): US$20.67 billion (2007)
GDP (Official Exchange Rate):US$11.21 billion
Annual Growth: 1% (2009, Government of Jamaica,)
Inflation: 12%
Unemployment rate: 9.4% (2007)
Major Industries: tourism, bauxite and alumina, textiles, food processing, light manufacturing, sugar, rum, cement, metal, paper, chemical products, bananas.
Major Trading Partners: US, EU, UK, Canada, the CARICOM countries, Latin America, Japan

Key sectors in the economy are tourism and bauxite. Agriculture also plays an important role. Remittances are also significant.

High interest rates and high levels of debt, increased foreign competition and a growing trade deficit as well as increasing food and oil prices present serious challenges.

Other challenges include a need for the sugar industry to diversify. Jamaica’s 'brain drain' where talented Jamaicans leave the country in search of a better life elsewhere continues. High levels of violent crime and corruption continue to threaten Jamaica’s economic development.

Political constraints deter budget austerity and fears have been raised about Jamaica’s ability to meet its long-term debt obligations despite a record of it never having defaulted. In August 2007 Jamaica was hit by Hurricane Dean, which led to four deaths and damage to infrastructure, housing and the farming community. Agricultural production was also disrupted, although not as severely as in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan struck the island. Tropical Storm Gustav in 2008 caused even more damage than Dean.

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Columbus landed in Jamaica on 4 May 1494 and found it inhabited by Arawak Indians. He took possession in the name of Spain. The Arawaks had died out by the time an English expedition of 7,000 landed at Passage Fort on 10 May 1655. Shortly after, the English took control. Most of the slaves the Spanish had imported from Africa remained in the interior using the opportunity to set up towns where they could live in freedom; they became known as the Maroons. In 1662 the people of Jamaica were given the rights of citizens of England and the right to make their own laws.

The People's National Party (PNP) was formed in 1938 under the leadership of Norman Manley, with the aim of establishing representative and responsible government for Jamaica within the Commonwealth. It is supported by the National Workers' Union to which it is affiliated. Alexander Bustamante formed the second major political party, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), in 1943. Like the PNP, the JLP derives support from Labour unions and affiliates to the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU). Jamaica became a member of the Federation of the West Indies in 1958 and self-governing in its internal affairs in 1959. As a result of a referendum in 1961, Jamaica withdrew from the Federation of the West Indies and became an independent sovereign country within the Commonwealth on 6 August 1962.

BBC News Country Timeline: Jamaica (

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Jamaica has diplomatic relations with most nations and is a member of the United Nations and the Organisation of American States. Jamaica is an active member of the Commonwealth. It is also linked with the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and more broadly through the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) (
Association of Caribbean States (ACS) (

Relations with the UK

The UK and Jamaica have a strong and long-standing relationship.

Under the British Government's International Strategic Priorities, principal British interests in Jamaica include: reducing the harm to the UK from international crime, including drug trafficking, people smuggling and money laundering; promoting sustainable development and poverty reduction underpinned by human rights, democracy, good governance and protection of the environment; managing migration and combating illegal immigration; and delivering high quality support for British nationals abroad, in normal times and in crises.

Drugs and Crime

Violent crime remains a major challenge to Jamaican stability, and has direct links to crime in the UK. The murder rate remains among the highest in the world (about 55per 100,000 in 2009) but has fallen considerably since late 2010 and early 2011 (9 per 100,000 in the first three months of 2011 – down 43.2% on the same period in 2010). Jamaica remains a significant trans-shipment route for cocaine from South America to North America and Europe and faces a high rate of gang-related violence fuelled by drugs money. The UK provides assistance to Jamaica’s law enforcement agencies.

Public and Private sector corruption is an obstacle to effective governance in Jamaica, and the Jamaican police are sometimes criticised for excessive use of force. The Government, with international support, have instigated a series of reforms to the security sector but Jamaica's criminal justice system remains in need of further reform and funding.

Recent Inward Visits

Jamaican politicians, senior officials and business people are regular visitors to the UK. Prime Minister The Hon Bruce Golding last visited the UK officially in May 2008.

Outward Visits

Several British government Ministers have visited Jamaica in the last four years. FCO Minister Jeremy Browne visited in January 2011,DfID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell visited in February 2011 and, most recently, DFID Minister Alan Duncan visited in October 2011. The Foreign Secretary met Jamaican Foreign Minister AJ Nicholson and National Security Minister Peter Bunting during the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum held in Grenada in January 2012.

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Jamaica is located in the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba. Its terrain is mostly mountainous, with a narrow, discontinuous coastal plain. Its climate is tropical all year and more temperate inland.

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UK Development Assistance

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has a programme valued at some £75million dedicated to the Caribbean region from 2011-2015. Jamaica will be the most significant beneficiary of this programme. Activities in the region will focus on continuing to accelerate growth, reduce the risk and impact of natural disasters, and cut the blight of violent crime. In Jamaica, activities will include support for community security and access to basic services and economic opportunity in 50 of the most volatile inner-city areas. Police reform, promoting good governance and anti-corruption efforts will also be central.

Department for International Development (DFID) (

UK Exports and Investment

In 2010, UK export of goods to Jamaica was valued at £68.4 million. UK companies have been significant investors in Jamaica for decades. Cable & Wireless, Diageo and Kier Construction are a few examples of those who have shown a long-term commitment to Jamaica and the region.

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In December 2011, the People’s National Party (PNP) won the General Election by 41 seats to the Jamaican Labour Party’s (JLP) 22. PNP leader Portia Simpson Miller was sworn in as Prime Minister on 5 January 2012. This is her second term as Prime Minister having been in office from March 2006 until September 2007 during the previous PNP administration.

The JLP is the main opposition party in Jamaica and held office most recently from September 2007 until the December 2011 elections. Bruce Golding served as Prime Minister from September 2007 until October 2011 and Andrew Holness, the current JLP leader, served as Prime Minister from October to December 2011.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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