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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Facts

Area: 389 sq km; 150 sq miles
Population: 103, 869 (2011 est World Factbook)
Capital: Kingstown
People: Most Vincentians are the descendants of African slaves brought to the island to work on plantations. There are also a few white descendants of English colonists, as well as some East Indians, Carib Indians, and a sizeable minority of mixed race. St Vincent has a high rate of emigration. With extremely high unemployment and underemployment, population growth remains a major problem.
Languages: English
Religion(s): Anglican 47%, Methodist 28%, Roman Catholic 13%, Seventh Day Adventist, Hindu and other Protestant 12%
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) which is pegged at XCD 2.70 : US$1.00
Major Political Parties: United Labour Party (ULP); New Democratic Party (NDP); Government: St Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. Control of government rests with the Prime Minister and the cabinet. The Parliament is a unicameral body (House of Assembly with 21 seats, out of which 15 are elected representatives and six are appointed senators). The Governor-General appoints Senators, four on the advice of the Prime Minister and two on the advice of the leader of the opposition. The parliamentary term of office is five years, although the Prime Minister may call elections at any time. As in other English-speaking Caribbean countries, the judiciary in St Vincent is rooted in British common law. There are 11 courts in three magisterial districts. The Lower Judiciary includes the Magistracy and the Family Court with the High Judiciary comprising of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Appeals can be made through the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. The court of last resort is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.
Head of State: HRH Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Governor-General Sir Frederick N. Ballantyne
Prime Minister/Premier: The Hon Dr Ralph Gonsalves
Foreign Minister: The Hon Sir Louis Straker
Membership in international groupings/organisations: The Commonwealth, CARICOM, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), ACP, UN, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UNESCO, Organisation of American States (OAS), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), IMF, WHO, WTO, IBRD, ILO, G-77

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HEALTH

Life expectancy: 74years (2011 est World Factbook)
Infant mortality: 14 per 1000 (2011 est World Factbook)

HIV/AIDS

The incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region is second only to sub-Sahara Africa. The main mode of HIV transmission in the Caribbean is unprotected heterosexual sex.

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP(official exchange rate): US$561m (2010 est World Factbook)
GDP per capita (purchasing power parity): US$EC$15,593 (GOSVG 2010 Budget Address)
Annual Growth Rate: -0.15 2009 (GOSVG 2010 Budget Address)
Inflation: 0.5% (2009 GOSV 2010 Budget Address)G)
Since 2006 an agreement with Italy to write off debt did help reduce the public debt and by the end of 2009 public debt has been estimated at 73.2% of GDP (EIU)

Since coming to power, the government has implemented a series of structural reforms intended to promote private sector growth and promotion of agricultural diversification and small businesses. However, the outlook for agriculture is still poor. Despite technological progress, for example in irrigation, the banana industry is still weak, with a reduced level of protection under the EU’s modified tariff-quota regime. New challenges within the WTO to the remaining EU protection may see this situation worsen. The Fair Trade scheme has allowed growers to take advantage of a niche market in the UK and should allow the industry to survive in the medium term.

VAT and modern Excise was introduced on 1 May 2007. VAT is charged at the rate of 15%, with a reduced rate of 10% for hotel accommodation, diving tours and other tourism related services to help protect the crucial tourist industry. In addition to VAT some commodities are also subject to an Excise Tax to be levied at varying rates, these goods include cars, petroleum products, alcohol and cigarettes. In 2008, the projected revenue stood at EC$162.8m (£31m).

The Income Tax threshold was increased to EC$17,000 in 2008 and the top marginal rate reduced from 37.5 to 35 percent. The standard rate of tax for companies was also reduced to 35.0%.

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HISTORY

St Vincent was originally settled around 5,000 BC by the Ciboney people, then by the Arawaks and subsequently by the warlike Caribs. The island was sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1498 who named it St Vincent. The Caribs of St Vincent, living in the densely forested mountainous interior, were able to resist European settlement for longer than any other island in the Caribbean.

In 1675 a Dutch ship carrying African slaves was shipwrecked to the south of the island. The slaves reached land and intermarried with the local population producing a mixed-race Black Carib community. A rebellion by the Black Caribs in 1795/96 succeeded in gaining control of most of the island, but was eventually suppressed. Most of the Black Caribs were deported in 1797 to the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. Their descendants now form the Garifuna community of Belize. Smaller groups of Black Caribs remain in St Vincent and are concentrated in the north-east of the island.

Granted by Charles I to the Earl of Carlisle in 1627, the islands were disputed between Britain and France but were finally ceded to Britain in 1783. The islands had a plantation economy based on slave labour and producing sugar, cotton, coffee and cocoa. As in the rest of the British Caribbean, slavery was abolished in 1834. The islands have been subject to natural disasters caused by hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. The eruption of La Soufriere in 1902 devastated the north of St Vincent killing 2,000 people. Internal self-government was granted in 1969 and St Vincent and the Grenadines attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1979.

BBC News Country Timeline: St Vincent and the Grenadines (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_1210000/1210777.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Relations with Neighbours

Prime Minister Gonsalves government has made Caribbean political integration a priority and he strengthened links between the OECS and Barbados, and with other members of CARICOM. Gonsalves holds the portfolio for bananas in CARICOM and travels widely in connection with this role.

Relations with the International Community

St Vincent and the Grenadines has open and good relations with the international community. It maintains close ties with the US, Canada and the UK. It has close relationships with Cuba and Venezuela. It also has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) instead of with the People’s Republic of China, and in August 2008 established relations with Iran. It meets its international obligations but is often constrained by lack of resources. It is a reliable partner at the UN General Assembly and has ratified most international conventions.

Relations with the UK

Relations between the UK and St Vincent and the Grenadines are good. There are strong historic links between the two countries. Most internal institutions are based on the UK model and there are no proposals to change this.

Recent Visits

Dr Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, is a regular visitor to the UK - most recently as a speaker at the Oxford Union in October 2008. The Royal Family are frequent visitors to the island of Mustique, part of the Grenadines. The Governor General, the Prime Minister and Mrs Gonsalves attended the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April 2011.

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GEOGRAPHY

St Vincent and the Grenadines is a multi-island nation consisting of the main island St Vincent, which covers about 85% of the country's territory, and of 32 smaller islands and cays, the Grenadines. St Vincent is a high volcanic island. A volcanic ridge runs from Grenada in the south up through the Grenadine islands. St Vincent is hilly and its rich volcanic soil is very productive. The Grenadines, flat, mainly bare coral reefs, lie like stepping-stones between St Vincent and Grenada. Fewer than a dozen of these islands are populated. The largest are Bequia, Canouan, Mayreau, Mustique and Union Island. These are relatively low-lying. All islands have beautiful white-sand beaches.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

Principal UK exports are machinery, fire tenders, telecommunications equipment, manufactured goods, fertilisers and foodstuffs. The UK's Harlequin Hotels and Resorts are the developers of Buccament Bay Beach Resort, a $200m venture. The principal import is bananas.

UK Development Assistance

The UK has given significant support to the Royal St Vincent Police Force to build its capacity to tackle crime, in particular in the area of drugs. The UK has also given a lot of support for prison reform and the building of a new prison which, although inaugurated, is yet to be operational.

The Department for International Development (DFID) has a substantial regional programme in the Caribbean with three strategic priorities; security and governance; wealth creation; and helping vulnerable coastal communities from the impact of climate change. St Vincent and the Grenadines will benefit from this new regional programme which hopes to create thousands of new jobs and enable over two hundred thousand people to better cope with the effects of climate change and natural disasters.

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POLITICS

The last election took place in December 2010 when the ULP were returned to power for a third consecutive term, taking 8 of the 15 seats with 51.61% of the votes. The Opposition National Democratic Party (NDP), with 47.78% of the votes, took 4 of the 5 marginal seats from the ULP in addition to its 3 traditional strongholds (including the 2 Grenadines seats).Observers from the OAS, CARICOM and the Commonwealth Secretariat were all present to monitor the elections. Education, job creation and poverty alleviation remain the Government's highest priorities together with the completion of the international airport.

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Last Updated: February 2012

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