The economy of Kiribati is based mainly on subsistence activities. The gross domestic product (GDP) was $43 million in 2000, or $480 per person. In 1986 the United Nations classified Kiribati as one of the worldís least developed countries.
The majority of Kiribatiís workforce is engaged in subsistence agriculture and fishing. In addition to the prevalent coconut and other palm products, agricultural crops include bananas, breadfruit, papayas, taro, and some citrus fruits. Because the northern Gilbert Islands receive more rainfall, they support the greatest variety of crops. Pigs and chickens are also raised in Kiribati, primarily for local consumption. Fish and other seafood are abundant in the waters surrounding the islands. In the early 1990s about one-third of Kiribatiís workforce was employed as wage earners. The government is the largest employer, and most jobs are on Tarawa. Other workers are employed on overseas ships or work in the phosphate industry on nearby Nauru. Remittances from these overseas workers are vital to Kiribatiís economy. The government also collects substantial revenues from the sale of licenses to foreign fishing vessels.
During the period when Kiribati was controlled by the British government (1892-1979), phosphate mining on Banaba was the primary source of revenue for the islands. Deposits were quickly depleted, however, and mining operations ceased in 1979. Kiribati has maintained a trust fund established with revenues from phosphate mining, which is used to help offset government expenditures. However, with the loss of the phosphate industry, Kiribati has remained heavily dependent on economic aid, mainly from Japan, the European Union (EU), and Australia.
Kiribatiís only major exports are copra (dried coconut meat), cultivated seaweed, and fish. The United States, Australia, and New Zealand are the leading purchasers of the countryís exports. Despite the cultivation of crops for local consumption, Kiribati is heavily dependent upon imported foods. Other imports include machinery and equipment, manufactured goods, and imported fossil fuels, which supply most of the countryís energy. Australia, the Fiji Islands, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States are the chief suppliers of imports. The value of imports to Kiribati far outweighs the value of its exports. The countryís official currency is the Australian dollar (1.72 Australian dollars equal U.S.$1; 2000).
Kiribatiís international airport is on Tarawa. Air Tungaru, which is Kiribatiís national airline, and Air Nauru, the airline of the Marshall Islands, connect Kiribati with Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and Hawaii. All of the Gilbert Islands have airstrips for small planes, as do many of the inhabited atolls. Kiribatiís main port is located at Betio, an islet of Tarawa. Banaba and Kiritimati also have significant ports. The Pacific Forum Line provides international shipping services, while Kiribati Shipping Corporation services the outer islands. Paved roads and bridges connect the main islets of Tarawa. Outside of Tarawa, many of the larger islands have unpaved roads. People travel between islands by canoes and other boats. The government of Kiribati runs an AM radio station. It also publishes a weekly newspaper, Te Uekera, which is written in Gilbertese; top news stories are also printed in English.