U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Life in sparsely populated Mongolia has recently become more urbanized. Nearly half of the people live in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, and in other provincial centers. Semi-nomadic life still predominates in the countryside, but settled agricultural communities are becoming more common. Mongolia's birth rate is estimated at 19 births/1000 people (2006). About two-thirds of the total population is under age 30, 28.5% of whom are under 14.
Ethnic Mongols account for about 85% of Mongolia's population and consist of Khalkha and other groups, all distinguished primarily by dialects of the Mongol language. Mongol is an Altaic language--from the Altaic Mountains of Central Asia, a language family comprising the Turkic, Tungusic, and Mongolic subfamilies--and is related to Turkic (Uzbek, Turkish, and Kazakh), Korean, and, possibly, Japanese. Among ethnic Mongols, the Khalkha comprise 90% and the remaining 10% include Durbet Mongols in the north and Dariganga Mongols in the east. Turkic speakers (Kazakhs, Turvins, and Khotans) constitute 7% of Mongolia's population, and the rest are Tungusic-speakers, Chinese, and Russians. Most Russians left the country following the withdrawal of economic aid and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhist Lamaism was the predominant religion. However, it was suppressed under the communist regime until 1990, with only one showcase monastery allowed to remain. Since 1990, as liberalization began, Buddhism has enjoyed a resurgence. About 4 million ethnic Mongols live outside Mongolia; about 3.4 million live in China, mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and some 500,000 live in Russia, primarily in Buryatia and Kalmykia.
In 1206 AD, a single Mongolian state was formed based on nomadic tribal groupings under the leadership of Chinggis ("Genghis") Khan. He and his immediate successors conquered nearly all of Asia and European Russia and sent armies as far as central Europe and Southeast Asia. Chinggis Khan's grandson Kublai Khan, who conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 AD), gained fame in Europe through the writings of Marco Polo.
Although Mongol-led confederations sometimes exercised wide political power over their conquered territories, their strength declined rapidly after the Mongol dynasty in China was overthrown in 1368. The Manchus, a tribal group which conquered China in 1644 and formed the Qing dynasty, were able to bring Mongolia under Manchu control in 1691 as Outer Mongolia when the Khalkha Mongol nobles swore an oath of allegiance to the Manchu emperor. The Mongol rulers of Outer Mongolia enjoyed considerable autonomy under the Manchus, and all Chinese claims to Outer Mongolia following the establishment of the republic have rested on this oath. In 1727, Russia and Manchu China concluded the Treaty of Khiakta, delimiting the border between China and Mongolia that exists in large part today.
Outer Mongolia was a Chinese province (1691-1911), an autonomous state under Russian protection (1912-19), and again a Chinese province (1919-21). As Manchu authority in China waned, and as Russia and Japan confronted each other, Russia gave arms and diplomatic support to nationalists among the Mongol religious leaders and nobles. The Mongols accepted Russian aid and proclaimed their independence of Chinese rule in 1911, shortly after a successful Chinese revolt against the Manchus. By agreements signed in 1913 and 1915, the Russian Government forced the new Chinese Republican Government to accept Mongolian autonomy under continued Chinese control, presumably to discourage other foreign powers from approaching a newly independent Mongolian state that might seek support from as many foreign sources as possible.
The Russian revolution and civil war afforded Chinese warlords an opportunity to re-establish their rule in Outer Mongolia, and Chinese troops were dispatched there in 1919. Following Soviet military victories over White Russian forces in the early 1920s and the occupation of the Mongolian capital Urga in July 1921, Moscow again became the major outside influence on Mongolia. The Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed on November 25, 1924.
Between 1925 and 1928, power under the communist regime was consolidated by the Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP). The MPRP left gradually undermined rightist elements, seizing control of the party and the government. Several factors characterized the country during this period: The society was basically nomadic and illiterate; there was no industrial proletariat; the aristocracy and the religious establishment shared the country's wealth; there was widespread popular obedience to traditional authorities; the party lacked grassroots support; and the government had little organization or experience.
In an effort at swift socioeconomic reform, the leftist government applied extreme measures that attacked the two most dominant institutions in the country--the aristocracy and the religious establishment. Between 1932 and 1945, their excess zeal, intolerance, and inexperience led to anti-communist uprisings. In the late 1930s, purges directed at the religious institution resulted in the desecration of hundreds of Buddhist institutions and imprisonment of more than 10,000 people.
During World War II, because of a growing Japanese threat over the Mongolian-Manchurian border, the Soviet Union reversed the course of Mongolian socialism in favor of a new policy of economic gradualism and buildup of the national defense. The Soviet-Mongolian army defeated Japanese forces that had invaded eastern Mongolia in the summer of 1939, and a truce was signed setting up a commission to define the Mongolian-Manchurian border in the autumn of that year.
Following the war, the Soviet Union reasserted its influence in Mongolia. Secure in its relations with Moscow, the Mongolian Government shifted to postwar development, focusing on civilian enterprise. International ties were expanded, and Mongolia established relations with North Korea and the new communist governments in Eastern Europe. It also increased its participation in communist-sponsored conferences and international organizations. Mongolia became a member of the United Nations in 1961.
In the early 1960s, Mongolia attempted to maintain a neutral position amidst increasingly contentious Sino-Soviet polemics; this orientation changed in the middle of the decade. Mongolia and the Soviet Union signed an agreement in 1966 that introduced large-scale Soviet ground forces as part of Moscow's general buildup along the Sino-Soviet frontier.
During the period of Sino-Soviet tensions, relations between Mongolia and China deteriorated. In 1983, Mongolia systematically began expelling some of the 7,000 ethnic Chinese in Mongolia to China. Many of them had lived in Mongolia since the 1950s, when they were sent there to assist in construction projects.
Chronology of Mongolian History 1921-Present
March 13, 1921: Provisional People's Government declares independence of Mongolia.
May 31, 1924: U.S.S.R. signs agreement with Peking government, referring to Outer Mongolia as an "integral part of the Republic of China," whose "sovereignty" therein the Soviet Union promises to respect.
May-September 16, 1939: Large scale fighting takes place between Japanese and Soviet-Mongolian forces along Khalkhyn Gol on Mongolia-Manchuria border, ending in defeat of the Japanese expeditionary force. Truce negotiated between U.S.S.R. and Japan.
October 6, 1949: Newly established People's Republic of China accepts recognition accorded Mongolia and agrees to establish diplomatic relations.
October 1961: Mongolia becomes a member of the United Nations.
January 27, 1987: Diplomatic relations established with the United States.
December 1989: First popular reform demonstrations. Mongolian Democratic Association organized.
January 1990: Large-scale demonstrations demanding democracy held in sub-zero weather.
March 2, 1990: Soviets and Mongolians announce that all Soviet troops will be withdrawn from Mongolia by 1992.
May 1990: Constitution amended to provide for multi-party system and new elections.
July 29, 1990: First democratic elections held.
September 3, 1990: First democratically elected People's Great Hural takes office.
February 12, 1992: New constitution goes into effect.
April 8, 1992: New election law passed.
June 28, 1992: Election for the first unicameral legislature (State Great Hural).
June 6, 1993: First direct presidential election.
June 30, 1996: Election resulted in peaceful transition of power from former communist party to coalition of democratic parties. From 1998-2000, four prime ministers and a series of cabinet changes. In early 2000, Democratic Coalition dissolved.
July 2, 2000: Election resulted in victory for the former communist Mongolian Peoples Revolutionary Party (MPRP); first-past-the-post electoral system enabled MPRP, with 52% of the popular vote, to win 95% of the parliamentary seats; formation of new government by Prime Minister N. Enkhbayar.
June 27, 2004: Motherland-Democracy Coalition formed in early 2004 to contest the parliamentary election. Election resulted in roughly 50/50 split of parliamentary seats between former communist party and democratic opposition and formation of new government by Prime Minister T. Elbegdorj (Democratic Party).
January 2006: MPRP ministers resigned from the government, and the government dissolved. A new coalition government was formed, led by the MPRP with the participation of four smaller parties.
Until 1990, the Mongolian Government was modeled on the Soviet system; only the communist party--the MPRP--officially was permitted to function. After some instability during the first two decades of communist rule in Mongolia, there was no significant popular unrest until December 1989. Collectivization of animal husbandry, introduction of agriculture, and the extension of fixed abodes were all carried out without perceptible popular opposition.
The birth of perestroika in the former Soviet Union and the democracy movement in Eastern Europe were mirrored in Mongolia. The dramatic shift toward reform started in early 1990 when the first organized opposition group, the Mongolian Democratic Union, appeared. In the face of extended street protests in subzero weather and popular demands for faster reform, the politburo of the MPRP resigned in March 1990. In May, the constitution was amended, deleting reference to the MPRP's role as the guiding force in the country, legalizing opposition parties, creating a standing legislative body, and establishing the office of president.
Mongolia's first multi-party elections for a People's Great Hural were held on July 29, 1990. The MPRP won 85% of the seats. The People's Great Hural first met on September 3 and elected a president (MPRP), vice president (SDP--Social Democrats), prime minister (MPRP), and 50 members to the Baga Hural (small Hural). The vice president also was chairman of the Baga Hural. In November 1991, the People's Great Hural began discussion on a new constitution, which entered into force February 12. In addition to establishing Mongolia as an independent, sovereign republic and guaranteeing a number of rights and freedoms, the new constitution restructured the legislative branch of government, creating a unicameral legislature, the State Great Hural (SGH).
The 1992 constitution provided that the president would be elected by popular vote rather than by the legislature as before. In June 1993, incumbent Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat won the first popular presidential election running as the candidate of the democratic opposition.
As the supreme government organ, the SGH is empowered to enact and amend laws, determine domestic and foreign policy, ratify international agreements, and declare a state of emergency. The SGH meets semiannually for 3-4 month sessions. SGH members elect a chairman and vice chairman who serve 4-year terms. SGH members are popularly elected by district for 4-year terms.
The president is the head of state, commander in chief of the armed forces, and head of the National Security Council. He is popularly elected by a national majority for a 4-year term and limited to two terms. The constitution empowers the president to propose a prime minister, call for the government's dissolution in consultation with the SGH chairman, initiate legislation, veto all or parts of legislation (the SGH can override the veto with a two-thirds majority), and issue decrees, which become effective with the prime minister's signature. In the absence, incapacity, or resignation of the president, the SGH chairman exercises presidential power until inauguration of a newly elected president.
The government, headed by the prime minister, has a 4-year term. The prime minister is nominated by the president and confirmed by the SGH. Under constitutional changes made in 2001, the president is required to nominate the prime ministerial candidate proposed by a party or coalition with a majority of members of the SGH. The prime minister chooses a cabinet, subject to SGH approval. Dissolution of the government occurs upon the prime minister's resignation, simultaneous resignation of half the cabinet, or after an SGH vote for dissolution.
Local hurals are elected by the 21 aimags (provinces) plus the capital, Ulaanbaatar. On the next lower administrative level, they are elected by provincial subdivisions and urban subdistricts in Ulaanbaatar and all aimags.
Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party
Motherland-Mongolian Democratic New Socialist Party
National New Party
Civil Will Party
Mongolian People's Party
Mongolian Green Party
Mongolian Traditional United Party
Mongolian National Solidarity Party
Mongolian Liberal Democratic Party
Mongolian Republican Party
Mongolian Women’s National United Party
Mongolian Liberal Party
Mongolian Social Democratic Party
Freedom Implementing Party
The 1992 constitution empowered a General Council of Courts (GCC) to select all judges and protect their rights. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body. Justices are nominated by the GCC and confirmed by the SGH and president. The court is constitutionally empowered to examine all lower court decisions--excluding specialized court rulings--upon appeal and provide official interpretations on all laws except the constitution.
Specialized civil, criminal, and administrative courts exist at all levels and are not subject to Supreme Court supervision. Local authorities--district and city governors--ensure that these courts abide by presidential decrees and SGH decisions. At the apex of the judicial system is the Constitutional Court, which consists of nine members, including a chairman, appointed for 6-year terms, whose jurisdiction extends solely over the interpretation of the constitution.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Miyeegombo Enkhbold
Economic activity in Mongolia has traditionally been based on herding and agriculture. Mongolia has extensive mineral deposits; copper, coal, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, and gold account for a large part of industrial production. Soviet assistance, at its height one-third of GDP, disappeared almost overnight in 1990-91 at the time of the dismantlement of the U.S.S.R., leading to a very deep recession. Economic growth returned due to reform embracing free-market economics and extensive privatization of the formerly state-run economy. Severe winters and summer droughts in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 resulted in massive livestock die-off and anemic GDP growth of 1.1% in 2000 and 1% in 2001. This was compounded by falling prices for Mongolia’s primary-sector exports and widespread opposition to privatization. Growth improved to 4% in 2002, 5% in 2003, 10.6% in 2004, 6.2% in 2005 and 7.5% in 2006. Much of the growth was due to high copper prices and new gold production. Other than agriculture (20.2% of GDP), dominant industries in the composition of GDP are mining 20.4%, trade and service 24.8% and transportation, storage, and communication 12.2%. Mongolia’s economy continues to be heavily influenced by its neighbors. For example, Mongolia purchases 80% of its petroleum products from Russia. China is Mongolia’s chief export partner and a main source of the “shadow,” or “gray” economy. The gray economy is estimated to be at least one-third the size of the official economy. The actual size of this gray--largely cash--economy is difficult to calculate since the money does not pass through the hands of tax authorities or the banking sector. Remittances from Mongolians working abroad, both legally and illegally, constitute a sizeable portion. Money laundering is growing as an accompanying concern. Mongolia settled its large debt to Russia at the end of 2003 on favorable terms. Mongolia, which joined the World Trade Organization in 1997, is the only member of that organization to not be a participant in a regional trade organization. Mongolia seeks to expand its participation and integration into Asian regional economic and trade regimes.
Because of Mongolia's remoteness and natural beauty, the tourism sector has recently shown signs of rapid growth. With spiking international commodity prices, there has been a surge of international interest in investing in Mongolia’s minerals sector despite the absence of a policy environment firmly conducive to private investment. How effectively Mongolia mobilizes private international investment around its comparative advantages (mineral wealth, small population, and proximity to China and its burgeoning markets) will ultimately determine its success in sustaining rapid economic growth. Parliament passed a windfall profits tax on copper and gold that took effect in mid-2006, and major amendments to the minerals law allowing the government to take an equity stake in major new mines. It is unknown what effect these laws will have on mining activities in Mongolia, although major potential investors expressed considerable concern about the changes.
Parliament in 2006 passed four new tax laws: personal and corporate income, value-added and excise, intended to reduce the overall tax burden on taxpayers and stimulate the economy. Most provisions of the new laws took effect January 1, 2007. No projections of the economic effects are currently available.
As a result of rapid urbanization and industrial growth policies under the communist regime, Mongolia's deteriorating environment has become a major concern. The burning of soft coal by individual home or “ger” (yurt in Russian) owners, power plants, and factories in Ulaanbaatar has resulted in severely polluted air. Deforestation, overgrazed pastures, and efforts to increase grain and hay production by plowing up more virgin land have increased soil erosion from wind and rain. With the rapid growth of newly privatized herds, overgrazing in selected areas also is a concern. Recent rapid and relatively unregulated growth in the mining sector for minerals (gold, coal, etc.) has become the focus of public debate. A great deal of public attention is being paid to non-transparency of the government process of awarding licenses, the equitable sharing of economic rents between foreign investors and the Government of Mongolia, and the potential impact on the environment. However, the real environmental concern is the sharp boom in the number of informal gold miners, who frequently illegally use mercury, which may lead to an epidemic of mercury poisoning.
In the wake of the international socialist economic system's collapse and the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolians began to pursue an independent and nonaligned foreign policy. Mongolia is landlocked between Russia and China, and seeks cordial relations with both nations. At the same time, Mongolia has sought to advance its regional and global relations. Ties with Japan and South Korea are particularly strong. Japan is the largest bilateral aid donor to Mongolia, a position it has held since 1991. Mongolia has also made efforts to steadily boost ties with European countries.
As part of its aim to establish a more balanced nonaligned foreign policy, Mongolia has sought to take a more active role in the United Nations and other international organizations, and has pursued a more active role in Asian and northeast Asian affairs. Mongolia became a full participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in July 1998 and a full member of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council in April 2000. Mongolia is currently seeking to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC). Mongolia is an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but has stated it does not intend to seek membership.
Mongolian relations with China began to improve in the mid-1980s when consular agreements were reached and cross-border trade contacts expanded. In May 1990, a Mongolian head of state visited China for the first time in 28 years. The cornerstone of the Mongolian-Chinese relationship is a 1994 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which codifies mutual respect for the independence and territorial integrity of both sides. China has objected strongly to the five visits since 1990 of the Dalai Lama; during the last, in 2002, China briefly disrupted railroad links for "technical" reasons. There are regular high-level visits and expanding trade ties. President Hu Jintao visited Mongolia in 2003. President Bagabandi visited China in 2004, and President Enkhbayar visited in 2005.
After the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia developed relations with the new independent states. Links with Russia and other republics were essential to contribute to stabilization of the Mongolian economy. In 1991, Mongolia and Russia concluded both a Joint Declaration of Cooperation and a bilateral trade agreement. This was followed by a 1993 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation establishing a new basis of equality in the relationship. Mongolian President Bagabandi visited Moscow in 1999, and Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Mongolia in 2000 in order to sign the 25-point Ulaanbaatar Declaration, reaffirming Mongol-Russian friendship and cooperation on numerous economic and political issues. In December 2003, Mongolia finally settled the Soviet-era debt it owed to Russia with a negotiated payment of $250 million. In July 2006, Prime Minister Fradkov visited Mongolia with a large business delegation. The Mongolian and Russian Governments continue to jointly own the railroad and the large Erdenet copper mine. President Enkhbayar visited Moscow in December 2006.
The U.S. Government recognized Mongolia in January 1987 and established its first embassy in Ulaanbaatar in June 1988. It formally opened in September 1988. The first U.S. ambassador to Mongolia, Richard L. Williams, was not resident there. Joseph E. Lake, the first resident ambassador, arrived in July 1990. Secretary of State James A. Baker, III visited Mongolia in August 1990, and again in July 1991. Mongolia accredited its first ambassador to the United States in March 1989. Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited Mongolia in May 1998, and Prime Minister Enkhbayar visited Washington in November 2001. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage visited Mongolia in January 2004, and President Bagabandi came to Washington for a meeting with President Bush in July 2004. President Bush, Mrs. Bush, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Mongolia in November 2005. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited in October 2005 and Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert visited Mongolia in August 2005. Agriculture Secretary Johanns led a presidential delegation in July 2006 in conjunction with Mongolia’s celebration of its 800th anniversary.
The United States has sought to assist Mongolia's movement toward democracy and market-oriented reform and to expand relations with Mongolia primarily in the cultural and economic fields. In 1989 and 1990, a cultural accord, Peace Corps accord, consular convention, and Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) agreement were signed. A trade agreement was signed in January 1991 and a bilateral investment treaty in 1994. Mongolia was granted permanent normal trade relations (NTR) status and generalized system of preferences (GSP) eligibility in June 1999. In July 2004, the U.S. signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with Mongolia to promote economic reform and more foreign investment.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) plays a lead role in providing bilateral American assistance to Mongolia. The program emphasizes two main themes: sustainable, private sector-led economic growth; and more effective and accountable governance. Total USAID assistance to Mongolia from 1991 through 2007 was about $170 million, all in grant form. About two-thirds of USAID Mongolia's current (2007) budget of $5.6 million a year promotes economic growth, and focuses on macroeconomic policy reform, energy sector commercialization, financial sector reform, strengthening the cashmere and tourism industries, and providing business development services to small and medium enterprises in both rural and urban areas. The other third focuses on judicial sector reform, electoral reform, parliamentary reform, and anti-corruption work.
In most years since 1993, the United States Department of Agriculture has provided food aid to Mongolia under the Food for Progress and 416(b) programs. The monetized proceeds of the food aid ($3.7 million in 2005) are currently used to support programs bolstering entrepreneurship, herder diversification, better veterinary services, and disaster relief. The United States has also supported defense reform and an increased capacity by Mongolia's armed forces to participate in international peacekeeping operations. Mongolia has contributed small numbers of troops to coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003, gaining experience which enabled it to deploy armed peacekeepers to both UN and NATO peacekeeping missions in 2005. With U.S. Department of Defense assistance and cooperation, Mongolia and the U.S. jointly hosted “Khan Quest 06,” the Asian region’s premier peace-keeping exercise in 2006. “Khan Quest 07” will be hosted on 01-16 August 2007.
The Peace Corps currently has over 100 Volunteers in Mongolia. They are engaged primarily in English teaching and teacher training activities. At the request of the Government of Mongolia, the Peace Corps has developed programs in the areas of public health, small business development, and youth development. In 2005 and 2006 Mongolian Government officials, including President Enkhbayar and Prime Minister Elbegdorj, requested significant increases in the number of Volunteers serving in country. The Peace Corps has responded with a commitment to make modest annual increases until 2010. The program celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2006 with participation by President Enkhbayar.
Principal U.S. Embassy Official
Ambassador-- Mark C. Minton
The U.S. Embassy is located in Micro District 11, Big Ring Road, Ulaanbaatar; tel.  (1) 329-095 or 329-606, fax 320-776. Consular and commercial information are available at the embassy's web site: http://mongolia.usembassy.gov.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
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The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007