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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 1,865 sq km
Population: 1,303,717 (July 2011 est.)
Capital City: Port Louis (Pop: 155,600 (2009 est.)
People: Hindu Indo-Mauritian (51%); Creoles (27%); Muslim Indo-Mauritian (17%); Others (5%)
Languages: English, French, Creole
Main Religion(s): Hinduism (52%); Christianity (28%); Islam (17%)
Currency: Mauritian Rupee
Major political parties: Labour Party; Mouvement Socialiste Militant (MSM); Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM); Parti Mauricien Social-Democrate Party (PMSD)
Government: Alliance of Labour, plus PMSD Head of State: HE Sir Anerood Jugnauth GCSK, KCMG, QC
Prime Minister: Dr the Hon Navinchandra Ramgoolam (appointed July 2005, re-elected May 2010)
Foreign Minister: Dr the Hon Arvin Boolell
Membership of international groupings/organisations: African Union (AU); Non Aligned Movement (NAM); Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR-ARC); Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP); Indian Ocean Commission (IOC);Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA); Southern African Development Community (SADC); and the Commonwealth.

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

GDP: US$ 10 billion (2010 est.)
Annual Growth: 4.2% (2010 est.)
Inflation: 2.9% (2010 est.)
Major Industries: Tourism, EPZ (Export Processing Zone) enterprises (mainly textile), sugar, financial services
Major trading partners: (Exports) UK, France, USA; (Imports) France, South Africa, India, China, UK
Exchange rate: 1 GBP = 44.47 Mauritian Rupees (MUR), July 2011
Mauritius enjoys a stable and relatively sound economy. With the decline of its traditional textile and sugar industries, tourism is now the main industry, accounting for about 27% of GDP. Successive governments have also been pushing for diversification of the economy into areas such as banking, finance, IT, business process outsourcing (including call centres) and seafood.

Mauritius is considered one of the most business-friendly countries in Africa as a result of its political stability, good governance and independent judiciary.

IMF Country reports - Mauritius (http://www.imf.org/external/country/MUS/index.htm)

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HISTORY

Arab sailors visited Mauritius during the Middle Ages. The Portuguese were probably the first Europeans to land, in around 1511, but they did not settle the island. The first colonists were the Dutch who settled in 1638 and named the island Mauritius after Prince Maurice of Nassau. The Dutch, who eventually abandoned Mauritius in about 1710, are remembered for having introduced sugar cane to the island. The French occupied between 1715 and 1810, renaming the country Isle de France. In 1810 the British took possession during the Napoleonic Wars (the French ceded the island under treaty in 1814) and reverted to the name Mauritius. Following the abolition of slavery in 1835, the British imported indentured labour from the Indian subcontinent to work the sugar cane fields.

Mauritius' history is reflected in its ethnic mix and its languages. Although English remains the official language of government and education, French is much more widely used today, especially by the media. Creole (a French-based patois) is the lingua franca. Several Asian languages are also spoken. Mauritius is a generally harmonious multicultural society despite occasional ethnic tension.

Mauritius gained independence on 12 March 1968 and became a member of the Commonwealth. The Queen was Head of State until 12 March 1992 when Mauritius became a Republic.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with the International Community

Mauritius has traditionally had strong commercial links with South Africa, France and India. China has also become a key commercial partner in recent years. Mauritius was instrumental in setting up the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC). As a member of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group it took a leading role in the ACP/EU negotiations leading to the Cotonou Agreementand continues to be active in this forum. Mauritius is also a member of the Indian Ocean Commission which promotes co-operation between the Indian Ocean islands of the African Union (AU). It has links with many African countries through its membership of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). In addition to Mauritius' membership of the Commonwealth, its bilingual culture is reflected in its membership of La Francophonie. Mauritius signed an Interim Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU in August 2009; it is also a signatory to the US African Growth and Opportunities Act.

Bilateral Relations

Bilateral relations are long-standing, substantive and generally friendly. The British Council plays an active role in Mauritius.

There are approximately 400 British nationals registered with the British High Commission. However many British nationals do not register since the environment is generally safe and we believe there may be up to 10,000 British passport holders in Mauritius (many of them dual nationals).

British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Archipelago)

The Chagos islands have been British since they were ceded to Britain by France in 1814. Following the French practice, they continued to be administered from Mauritius. Prior to Mauritius achieving independence, and with the agreement of the Mauritius Council of Ministers, the islands were detached in 1965 to form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The Territory was created to provide for the defence needs of both the United States and the UK. At the time, the British Government gave Mauritius an undertaking to cede the islands to Mauritius when they were no longer required for defence needs. However, since 1982, successive Mauritius Governments have asserted a sovereignty claim to the islands, arguing that they were detached illegally.

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GEOGRAPHY

Mauritius is a mountainous sub-tropical island in the Indian Ocean, with an area of 1,865 sq km. The Republic of Mauritius also includes the island of Rodrigues, 560km east of the principal island, and several much smaller islands. Mauritius lies some 800km to the east of Madagascar. The capital, Port Louis, is in the north west of the island.

The temperature range is moderate, from a low of 16ºC in the winter, to 35ºC in summer. Mauritius has a number of micro-climates so weather conditions can vary considerably across the island. The islands are in the Indian Ocean cyclone belt (the season runs from November to April). Most cyclones miss the islands but can bring vital rains at the ideal time for the country's main crop, sugar. Cyclones occasionally cause extensive damage.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

There are no official services delivered on behalf of UKTI in this market to help British companies who wish to export or invest here. However, lobbying on behalf of British companies may be carried out on a case-by-case basis.

Britain has traditionally been the major export market for Mauritian products. In 2010 for goods and service, this amounted to some £250 million. In 2010, the UK was the main source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Mauritius with some £100 million, mainly in the finance, real estate and agricultural sectors. Some 100,000 UK tourists visit Mauritius each year.

UK Trade and Investment Country Profile: Mauritius (https://www.uktradeinvest.gov.uk/ukti/appmanager/ukti/countries?_nfls=false&_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=CountryType1&navigationPageId=/mauritius)

Development

41% of the population lives in urban areas. The rates of adult literacy (over 95% of under 30s) and life expectancy (71 years) are well above the sub-Saharan African average. There are, however, pockets of both urban and rural poverty, the latter notably on Rodrigues.

In March 1998, Britain cancelled all outstanding bilateral aid loans to Mauritius (totalling £1.1 million), under a UK initiative to cancel the aid debts of Commonwealth countries. Mauritius benefits from EU development assistance, currently focussed largely on the wastewater sector. The British High Commission funds small projects which meet poverty alleviation and environment criteria. DFID does not have an assistance programme.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (http://www.undp.org/)
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTABOUTUS/EXTIBRD/0,,menuPK:3046081~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:3046012,00.html)

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POLITICS

Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has been a uni-cameral parliamentary democracy, with an active free press and an independent judiciary. The National Assembly consists of 70 MPs. 62 are directly elected under a first-past-the-post system. The remaining 8 are distributed according to a complex Best Loser formula designed to ensure equitable ethnic representation in Parliament.

Mauritian governments have been dominated by changing political coalitions. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was Prime Minister of a Labour-led coalition from 1968 to 1982. He lost the 1982 election to Sir Anerood Jugnauth (leader of the Mauritian Socialist Party and later the MSM Party) who was initially in alliance with Paul Berenger’s MMM until a rift in 1983, then in coalition with rival groups. Sir Anerood dominated the political scene for the next 12 years. In 1995 Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam (son of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam) led his Labour Party to a landslide victory in alliance with the MMM under Paul Berenger. Berenger served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the new coalition until Dr Ramgoolam dismissed him in June 1997.

Dr Ramgoolam called a snap General Election in August 2000, following allegations of corruption against three of his Ministers. The MSM and MMM combined forces at the last moment to inflict a heavy defeat on the Government, taking 58 out of 70 seats in Parliament. Under the terms of the MMM/MSM agreement, Sir Anerood Jugnauth was Prime Minister for the first three years of the Government's five-year mandate. At the end of September 2003 he became President and was succeeded as Prime Minister by his coalition partner Paul Berenger.

Their fortunes were reversed at the July 2005 General Election. It produced a big swing back in favour of the Labour Party which, in alliance with five smaller parties, returned to power with 42 seats to the MMM/MSM’s 24.

Mauritius held its general election on 5 May 2010. Dr Ramgoolam’s Labour-led coalition “Alliance de l’Avenir” (ADA), also encompassing the MSM under Pravind Jugnauth (son of incumbent President and former Prime Minister Sir Anerood) and the PMSD under Xavier Duval (son of Sir Gaetan Duval, a political figure who held various ministerial positions in early independence Mauritius), won a majority in Parliament with 41 seats. Paul Berenger’s MMM-led “Alliance du Coeur” (ADC) picked up 18 seats. The Mauritian Solidarity Front won one seat and the Rodrigues Movement won the two remaining seats. Observers from the African Union considered the elections to have been “free and transparent”. In July 2011, six MSM Ministers resigned from Cabinet in support of the Health Minister who was arrested in the wake of a corruption scandal. The MSM then walked out of the ruling coalition in August 2011, citing disagreements with the Labour Party.

Mauritius Government Web Portal (http://www.gov.mu/)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Respect for Human Rights is enshrined in the Mauritius Constitution and laws and is generally respected by the authorities, although there are alleged instances of police brutality. A National Human Rights Commission under a High Court Judge has submitted annual reports since 2001. The Government recently opened up radio broadcasting to private operators but television remains a state controlled monopoly.

Human Rights Annual Report 2009 (http://centralcontent.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/pdf/human-rights-reports/human-rights-report-2009)

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Last Updated: September 2011

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