16 July 2008

Data on Some Dependencies Omitted in UN Documents

An important function of the United Nations (UN) is the compilation and publication of statistical information and indicators on economic and social development in countries around the planet. This data is valuable to governments, civil society, experts, researchers and individuals in the continual examination of economic and social trends in jurisdictions worldwide.

Inclusion of data on the Non-Independent Countries (NICs) is equally useful for those who follow developments in this unique set of non-sovereign countries. Generally, these NICs are so-defined because of their associate membership (or eligibility) in the respective UN regional economic commissions, but there are many others which exist under varying political and constitutional arrangements with larger countries.

The Non-Independent Countries (NICs)


There are ten Non-Independent Caribbean Countries (NICCs) which are associate members of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), including seven classified by the UN as Non Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) and three designated as Self-Governing Territories (SGTs). Thus, the United Kingdom - administered territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla join with the United States – administered US Virgin Islands as the seven NSGTs in the Caribbean. Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles in association with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and U.S. – administered Puerto Rico constitute the SGT category (even as the level of self-government in Puerto Rico is subject to question). All but Bermuda are associate members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Island jurisdictions such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana which are overseas departments of France are not eligible for separate status in ECLAC because of their status as politically integrated with the French Republic - and by extension, the European Union. It is often the case that because of the size of their economy, and despite their integrated status, their data is included in international statistical documents.


In the case of the Pacific, a similar situation applies. A number of the Non-Independent Pacific Countries (NIPCs) are associate members of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Non Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) listed by the UN in the Pacific are the US-administered territories of American Samoa and Guam, the French –administered territory of New Caledonia and the New Zealand-administered territory of Tokelau. The Northern Mariana Islands with its autonomous arrangement (albeit in reversal) with the US, the autonomous French Polynesia, and the two freely associated states of the Cook Islands and Niue in their association arrangement with New Zealand, constitute the Self-Governing Territories (SGT) category on the Pacific side. Hong Kong and Macau are also included, as they remain associate members of ESCAP pursuant to the terms of the agreements between China and the United Kingdom governing the re-integration of those former territories.

Statistics for NICs

It is always useful to have the statistical indicators of these Non-Independent Countries (NICs) included in the UN statistical documentation as it facilitates economic and social analysis, and is helpful to international business in investment decision-making. It is encouraging that many of the UN statistical documents contain significant information on this group of countries. The lack of availability of data for many of the NICs is often a constraint since the level of statistical capacity in the NICs varies significantly. This has been identified as an area where international technical assistance could prove especially useful.

Another factor influencing the presentation of data may be the level of political awareness of the UN statistical researchers who may have to determine the ‘political correctness’ of separate inclusion of data on individual NICs. As the political and constitutional dynamics of these countries can be fairly complex, it should not be assumed that these expert technicians would also have access to expert political analysis on these issues.

UN Statistical Publications

Within this context, three UN statistical publications among many offer some insights into the presentation and availability of economic and social development data. The first publication is the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics which is published by the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. This is a highly useful reference with coverage of the ten Non-Independent Caribbean Countries (NICCs), while only omitting the small economies of Niue and Tokelau where data may not be as readily available. (It is to be noted, however, that some of this data may be accessed from the UN Development Programme which has historically provided services to both jurisdictions, or from ESCAP in which Niue enjoys associate membership).

The Monthly Bulletin of Statistics admirably exceeds the coverage of the recognised NICs by including non-independent countries and other jurisdictions with varying autonomous relationships with UN member states, and even several integrated parts of larger countries. Thus, data is available on the Aland Islands with its unique relationship with Norway, and the Faroe Islands and Greenland with their respective autonomous relationships within the Kingdom of Denmark. This is commendable since the economies of these territories warrant separate inclusion in their own right. It is also interesting that data is included on the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion, even as they are integrated parts of France. These outer-most areas of the French Republic (as it is termed) clearly fit the bill as individual economies, even as they are politically integrated, and not autonomous. Perhaps data on the US “outer-most areas” of Hawaii and Alaska should be included in future.

The second publication is the highly useful World Population Prospects document which is published by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The coverage of this document is not as complete as the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics published by the Statistics Division, and is interesting in its omissions as well as in its inclusions. Thus, the population document omits all of the United Kingdom-administered territories of Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. Data on US-administered American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, New Zealand-administered-Tokelau, and the New Zealand associated countries of the Cook Islands and Niue are also missing. Nevertheless, these omitted economies are listed in the beginning of the publication which classify countries by major area and region of the world. Demographic information on these Non-Independent Countries (NICs) is readily available, however, from other agencies of the UN system, so their exclusion from the demographic document is puzzling, especially as the Population Division's two highly useful statistical charts on rural and urban population, respectively, complete extensive data on the NICs.

The third publication, and one of the most specialised UN statistical publications, is the Energy Statistics Yearbook. The aim of this publication is “to provide a global framework of comparable data on long-term trends in the supply of mainly commercial primary and secondary forms of energy.” The document is perhaps the most intriguing of the three in terms of how it treats island countries, especially the NICs.

In the Country Nomenclature explanation at the beginning of the text, it is explained that statistics for the United States includes the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and oil statistics as well as for coal trade statistics, also include Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. The explanation also inexplicably indicates that the Pacific Islands used for military purposes - Johnston Atoll, Midway Islands and Wake Island –– were also subsumed under the US statistics. More on this later.

In the statistical tables of the energy document, data for the Caribbean and Central America is in the North American region (an interesting interpretation of the political cartography). In tables 1-3 of the document on production, trade and consumption of commercial energy, data for all of the UK-administered territories except the Turks and Caicos Islands is listed, along with statistics for Aruba, the Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Greenland, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Data for the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and French Guiana are appropriately listed in the South America category, with Hong Kong and Macau statistics also properly listed under Asia. The Faroe Islands is under Europe. The Pacific category includes data for the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Niue. Data is also included for Gibraltar (in the European section), and St. Helena (in the African section).

It is in table 14 on the production, trade and consumption of crude petroleum that has raised eyebrows, and returns attention to the beginning of the document where it was indicated that data for the US-administered territories is subsumed under the US statistical totals. In this regard, only data on Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, of all of the non-independent countries (NICs), is made available. Data on Martinique also appears, even as this is not a country, non-independent or otherwise, but is a part of the EU. Table 15 on international trade of crude petroleum does not even include the few NICs listed in table 14. A subsequent table on refinery distillation capacity only includes Aruba and Martinique.

Invariably, of the 38 tables included in the document, data on the NICs is included primarily when energy consumption is addressed. In the areas of energy production, however, data on the NICs is absent. Thus, in the case of oil statistics, the data for the US-administered territories is included with the US statistics, providing no opportunity for an assessment of performance in this sector in the US-administered territories. This is clearly evident in the specific tables dealing with refinery distillation capacity, production, trade and consumption of gasoline where data on most of the NICs appears, except for the US -administered territories.

The exclusion of oil production and trade statistics is puzzling given that the US Virgin Islands maintains the largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere, with significant refining capacity, imports of crude, and exports of refined petroleum products to the US and other markets. The five US – administered territories, with the exception of Puerto Rico, are also not within the customs zone of the United States, so are therefore separate economies. All warrant separate attention, notwithstanding the arbitrary decision to exclude their data – unless, of course, the decision was not so arbitrary.

The decision to include separate data for NICs, or to include that data in the statistics of the larger country with which the territory has a political relationship, should be made carefully, based on established principles. All efforts should be made to provide separate data for NICs if the document is to have validity and meaning to those who look to UN studies for information. Such decisions should not be left to chance or misinterpretation, nor subject to any unilateral political direction. Such omissions detract from otherwise excellent UN documents.