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Country Facts

Area: The total area is over 9.8 million sq km
Population: 313.2 million (July 2011 est.)
Capital City: Washington, District of Columbia
People: The United States is a multicultural country with people from all over the world who have now made the USA their home. The Ethnic Groups are: White 79.96%, Black 12.85%, Asian 4.43% American Indian and Alaska native 0.97%, Native Hawaiian and Other 0.18%.
Language: The main language is English although Spanish is spoken by a sizeable minority.
Religion(s): Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, Jewish 1.7%, Muslim 0.6%, Others 2.5%, no religious affiliation 12.1%
Currency: Dollar: 1 US Dollar is made up of 100 cents.
Major Political Parties: There are two main political parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, both organised at State and Federal level.
Government: Constitution-based Federal Republic with a strong democratic tradition.
Head of State: President Barack Obama (January 2009); Vice President Joe Biden (January 2009).
Foreign Minister: Hillary Rodham Clinton (January 2009).
Membership of international groups/organisations: UN, NATO, NAFTA.

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Current information on health matters within the USA can be found on the FCO Travel Advice web page. (

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Basic Economic Facts

GDP Growth: 2.8% (2010 est.)
Inflation: 1.6% (2010 est.)
Labour force: 153.9 million (includes unemployed 2010 est.)
Unemployment: 8.6% (December 2011)
Budget: Revenues $2.162 trillion, expenditures $3.456 trillion (2010 est.)
Major Industries: Leading industrial power in the world, highly diversified and technologically advanced; petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining, defence
Major Trading Partners: The US is a global trader with global markets. Its main trading partners are Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, UK and Germany.
Exports: $1.289 trillion (2010 est.)
Exports - commodities: capital goods, automobiles, industrial supplies and raw materials, consumer goods, agricultural products
Imports: $1.935 trillion (2009 est.)
Imports - commodities: crude oil and refined petroleum products, machinery, automobiles, consumer goods, industrial raw materials, food and beverages
Debt - national: $14.71 trillion (30 June 20011)
Exchange rate: £1 = approx US Dollar 1.56 (December 2011)

Current Economic Situation

Following the global economic downturn, sub prime mortgage crisis and credit crunch of 2008, the US recovery that began in 2009 has been in the balance; output in the US economy has expanded by less than 5 per cent since the end of the recession compared with almost 12 per cent at a similar stage in the 1980’s recovery. However, despite the current problems in the Eurozone it looks increasingly likely that the US economy will experience a strong finish to 2011. At the beginning of December the unemployment rate fell back sharply to 8.6%, a two-and-a-half-year low, although it remains to be seen whether this will change forecasts for unemployment, which remain elevated. Commentators are now debating how much momentum the US economy has, and are increasingly convinced growth will not go back to pre-crisis levels. The failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach an agreement in November increased the risk of fiscal drag to US growth going forward.

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The first inhabitants of continental North America arrived after the ice age from Asia across what is now the Bering Strait. These nomadic hunters eventually settled and developed into distinct groups. Their descendants were Native American cultures such as the Pueblos in the South West, Navajo in Arizona, Apache in Texas, Cherokee in North Carolina, Crow in Montana and Mohawk and Iroquois in New York State.Norse explorers were the first Europeans to reach North America in the 10th century, establishing a settlement in Newfoundland. But it was Columbus who took the credit for the discovery of America in 1492. His arrival sparked a series of European visitors, including the Spanish, French, Dutch and British and the first settlement was set up by the Spanish at St Augustine in Florida in 1565. The British presence in North America began with Walter Raleigh's Atlantic Coast explorations in the late 16th century, and in 1607 the first permanent colony was established by the Virginia Company at Jamestown, Virginia. In 1620 the English Puritan Pilgrim Fathers landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in their boat, The Mayflower. The Puritans wanted to establish a new society free from religious persecution and drew up the Mayflower Compact, a declaration of self-government. Shortly after, in 1629, another Puritan colony was set up in Boston. By the mid 18th century, the inhabited parts of North America were largely divided between the French, the British and the Spanish. The French were effectively removed from the equation by the British during the French and Indian War, but victory had a high price, and England attempted to recoup its war costs by raising taxes levied on the colonies. Violent demonstrations and boycotts by the colonists stamped out many of the unpopular taxes, but the British continued to charge a levy on tea. The colonies began to turn back shipments or refuse to distribute them and the protests reached their height in 1773 with the Boston Tea Party, when a cargo of tea was dumped in the sea. The revolutionary war began in 1775 in Concord, Massachusetts, when colonials fired on British troops searching for a hidden colonial weapons cache. In the middle of the war, the Articles of Confederation were drawn up to unite the states and Declaration of Independence was signed by all 13 colonial representatives on 4th July 1776, thenceforth known as Independence Day. The colonists won the revolutionary war in 1781 and the new United States Constitution was written in 1786 and ratified a year later. During the 19th century the country expanded through a combination of land purchases, conflicts and negotiations that created a number of new states. However, tensions developed as the north and south grew further apart, with the Northern States abolishing slavery, while the Southern States continued their support of slave labour. The Northern States claimed victory in the American Civil War which ended in 1865, slavery was abolished and the South lay in tatters. For the next 50 years, America steamed ahead into the industrial age, with a massive growth in its economy and population. Hawaii was annexed in 1898, thus bringing together the 50 states of the USA as we know them today. BBC News Country Timeline: USA (

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Relations with Neighbours

The United States has particularly close relations with its immediate neighbours Mexico and Canada. These 3 countries compose NAFTA (the North America Free Trade Agreement) and have a thriving economic relationship.

Relations with the International Community

EU/US Relations

The EU/US relationship is traditionally centred on trade and investment. The EU and the US are each other’s main trading partners (taking goods and services together) and account for the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, accounting for 33% of world trade in goods and 42% of world trade in services. The daily value of transatlantic trade (in goods and services) is approximately £1.7 billion.

The EU and US have increasingly co-operated both in areas of traditional foreign and defence policy, as well as addressing threats and challenges including drugs, international terrorism, crises management, the environment and development/aid work.

The EU/US relationship is institutionally underpinned by the New Transatlantic Agenda (1995), aimed at fostering EU/US efforts to promote peace and stability; respond to global challenges; contribute to closer world trade and economic relations; build bridges across the Atlantic and promote dialogue (through the Transatlantic Legislative, Business and Consumer Dialogues). This was enhanced by the Transatlantic Economic Partnership (1998), which stressed the need to respect and develop WTO rules and intensify efforts to eliminate EU/US barriers to trade. The Positive Economic Agenda, agreed in May 2002, further promotes transatlantic regulatory cooperation in a range of sectors.

At the EU/US Summit in Washington on 28 November 2011 President Obama met the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barrosoand the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy.

Relations with the UK

The UK-US political/economic relationship is extremely close. The UK has strong links to both the Administration and Congress. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the UK made a commitment to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with the US in the campaign to defeat terrorism. The United Kingdom's support for action against Iraq and the subsequent commitment of substantial forces to fight alongside those of the US underlined the strength of the transatlantic relationship. The US and UK are close partners in addressing a wide range of issues, including counter-terrorism, homeland security, the Middle East Peace Process, and nuclear non-proliferation.

The Prime Minister is a regular visitor to the US(most recently in September 2011), as are other senior UK governmental ministers. The Foreign Secretary last visited Washington in December 2011.The Queen and Prime Minister welcomed President Obama to London for an official State Visit in May 2011.

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council is the UK's international organisation for educational and cultural relations. In its support of cultural relations between the UK and US, the British Council works closely with British diplomatic posts and trade promotion agencies. The focus is on education, the arts and science and technology through the maintenance and development of networks of relationships within US arts, science and education communities; the provision of advice and information in these fields and the marketing and promotion of UK creativity and education.

British Council USA (

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Location: North America, bordering both the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, between Canada and Mexico
Area: 9,826,630 sq km in total
Land: 9,161,923 sq km
Water: 664,707 sq km, note: includes only the 50 states and District of Columbia
Area - comparative: About half the size of Russia; about three-tenths the size of Africa; about half the size of South America (or slightly larger than Brazil); slightly larger than China; about two and a half times the size of the European Union
Land boundaries: 12,034 km in total
Border countries: Canada 8,893 km (including 2,477 km with Alaska), Mexico 3,141 km
Coastline: 19,924 km
Climate: Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semi-arid in the great plains west of the Mississippi River, and arid in the Great Basin of the south-west; low winter temperatures in the north-west are ameliorated occasionally in January and February by warm Chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Terrain: Vast central plain, mountains in west, hills and low mountains in east; rugged mountains and broad river valleys in Alaska; rugged, volcanic topography in Hawaii
Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Death Valley -86 m; highest point: Mount McKinley 6,194 m
Natural hazards: Tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquake activity around Pacific Basin; hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts; tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast; mud slides in California; forest fires in the west; flooding; permafrost in northern Alaska, a major impediment to development

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Trade and Investment with the UK

The Market

The US is the UK’s most important trading partner. It is the UK’s largest single market and is the leading destination for UK overseas investment. It has an integrated and largely self-contained economy and every major industry is represented. With the exception of a few import quotas and some strategic industry ownership restrictions, there are no limitations on foreign firms seeking to do business in the US. The US has federal laws applicable throughout the entire country and state laws, which are passed by individual states, both sets applying in the business world.

The US is an attractive market to UK exporters and investors for the following reasons:

Political and economic stability

-- Shared history and culture

-- Strong underlying relationships between the US and the UK

-- The UK is often seen in a favourable and positive light by most US business people and consumers

-- UK goods have traditionally enjoyed a good reputation for quality in the US

-- US manufacturers often source components overseas

-- Wider market access to Canada and Mexico through the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

-- Active support at federal and state level for international investment

Trade in goods and services

The United States is the UK’s top export destination and its second-largest trading partner overall (again after Germany) for goods amounting to £62 billion in 2009.

The UK is the US’s largest trading partner for services, worth £45.9 billion in 2008 (latest figures available).

In increasingly difficult economic headwinds, the US-UK trade flows (in goods) totalled £62 billion in 2009, a year-on-year decrease of 3%.


The United Kingdom continues to be the largest foreign investor in the United States. At the end of 2008, the United Kingdom had foreign direct investment (FDI) of nearly £239 billion in the United States.

The UK is also a major destination for US FDI: American capital stocks in Britain totalled nearly £191 billion in 2008 and provided 25.8% of investment in the EU.

Outward/Inward Investment

The UK continues to be the leading investor in the US. Although the US operates foreign investment restrictions in some sectors of the economy (airline ownership, telecommunications, and radio services) foreign investors are generally treated on an equal footing with domestic business. There are no restrictions on moving capital in or out of the US (or between States) or on the repatriation of profits. Financial services (other than banking) account for just over one third of US investment in Britain and manufacturing just under one third. Britain is the main recipient of US foreign direct investment.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: USA (

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The Executive

The chief executive of the United States is the President, who, together with the Vice President is elected to a four-year term. A president may be elected to only two terms. The President's powers are extensive but not unlimited. As the chief formulator of national policy, the President proposes legislation to Congress and may veto any bill passed by Congress. The President is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. President Barack Obama was sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States on 20 January 2009. The President is the first African-American to hold this position.

The President presides over the executive branch, which includes 15 executive departments, the Executive Office of the President and numerous other independent agencies. The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. The Vice President, department heads (Cabinet members) and heads of independent agencies assist in this capacity. Unlike the powers of the President, their responsibilities are not defined in the Constitution but each has special powers and functions. The heads of the departments, chosen by the President and approved by the Senate, form the President's Cabinet.

The Legislature

The United States Congress comprises 2 chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 100 members, made up of 2 from each of the 50 states. The Senators are elected for 6 years and, to ensure continuity, elections for one-third of the Senate seats take place every 2 years. The House of Representatives comprises 435 members. Each state is entitled to 1, with the total number of Representatives based on the state's population. Representatives are elected every 2 years. In addition to the Senators and Representatives, Puerto Rico is represented by a Commissioner, and American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam and the US Virgin Islands by Delegates. Neither the Commissioner nor the Delegates have a vote in the full house but they are able to vote in the Committees to which they have been assigned.

The Democrats held the Senate following the November 2010 midterm elections, whilst the Republicans won control of the House, gaining 63 seats in the largest seat change since 1948 to hold 242 seats to the Democrats’ 193. The 112th Congress was sworn in on 5 January 2011. Elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 in the Senate will be held alongside the Presidential election in November 2012.

The Judiciary

The Supreme Court is the highest court of the United States and the only one specifically created by the constitution. A decision of the Supreme Court cannot be appealed by any other court. It has original jurisdiction in only 2 kinds of cases: those involving foreign dignitaries and those in which a state is a party. All other cases reach the Court on appeal from the lower court. Most of the cases involve interpretation of the law or of the intent of Congress in passing a piece of legislation. A significant amount of the work of the Supreme Court, however, consists of determining whether legislative or executive acts conform to the Constitution. The Supreme Court consists of 9 justices appointed for life by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. One justice is appointed as the Chief Justice and has additional administrative duties related both to the Supreme Court and to the entire federal court system.

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The United States has ratified the following UN human rights treaties:

The ICCPR (civil and political rights), CAT (Convention Against Torture) and CERD (Racial Discrimination), and signed but not ratified: ICESCR (economic and social rights), CRC (rights of the child) and CEDAW (discrimination against women).

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Last Updated: December 2011

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