French Antilles And French Guiana 1788
Photo by: Fanny Reno

French Guiana Martinique Guadeloupe


French Guiana, US$155 million; Martinique, US$250 million; Guadeloupe, US$140 million (all f.o.b., 1997). Imports: French Guiana, US$625 million; Martinique, US$2 billion; Guadeloupe, US$1.7 billion (all c.i.f., 1997).



French Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe are each separate overseas departments of France. Martinique and Guadeloupe are collectively referred to as the French Antilles, while the 3 countries together comprise the 3 Caribbean Departments of France. Located in northern South America, French Guiana is bordered by Brazil to the south and the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north, and Suriname to the west. The total area of French Guiana is 91,000 square kilometers (35,135 square miles), rendering it slightly smaller than Indiana, while the coastline spans 378 kilometers (235 miles). Cayenne, the capital of the country, is situated slightly east of the center point along the coastline.

Martinique, a small island that lies between Dominica and St. Lucia in the eastern Caribbean sea, has a total area of 1,103 square kilometers (426 square miles). The capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France, is situated on the northern tip of the island. Martinique is about 6 times the size of Washington D.C.

Guadeloupe, which actually consists of an archipelago of 9 inhabited islands, is also located in the east Caribbean sea, to the north of Martinique, south of the British island Montserrat. The islands of Guadeloupe, including the French part of the island of Saint Martin that is divided with the Netherlands (whose southern portion is named Sint Maarten and is part of the Netherlands Antilles), have a total area of 1,780 square kilometers (687 square miles). The capital of Guadeloupe, the town of Basse-Terre, is located on one of the 9 islands with the same name. Comparatively, Guadeloupe is about 10 times the size of Washington, D.C.


The total population of French Guiana was estimated at 172,605 in 2000, a 4.0 percent increase from the population of 115,930 in 1990. In 2000, the total birth rate was 22.4 births per 1,000 people, while the death rate was reported at 4.76 deaths per 1,000 people. In the same year, life expectancy was estimated at 76.1 years for the total population. With a net migration rate estimated at 11.59 migrants per 1,000 people in 2000, a significant number of French Guianese leave the country in search of opportunities abroad as a result of high levels of unemployment. Still, population growth is quite high and the government has taken measures to increase

knowledge and availability of birth control in all the Caribbean Departments of France (CDF). Population growth rates are expected to decline considerably in the near future, reaching 2.1 percent between 2000-10 and 1.3 percent between 2010 and 2020, at which time the population is expected to equal 244,440. The age structure of the population is generally young, with 31 percent of the population between the ages of 0-14 years, 64 percent between the ages of 15-64 years, and only 5 percent over 65 years (2000 est.).

The total population of Guadeloupe was reported at 426,493 in 2000, a 1.2 percent increase from the population of 377,678 in 1990. Similarly, the total population of Martinique was reported at 414,516 in 2000, an increase of 1.0 percent from the population of 373,565 in 1990. Also in 2000, the birth rate in the French Antilles was estimated at 17.25 births per 1,000 people, while the death rate was 6.01 deaths per 1,000 people. Life expectancy for the average person from the French Antilles was 76.99 years. About 25 percent of all persons from the French Antilles are under 14 years of age, 66 percent are between the ages of 15-64 years, and only 9 percent are 65 years and over (2000). For the French Antilles and French Guiana, young populations have confronted the government with the major task of creating employment to accommodate young workers entering the market. Unemployment rates are exceptionally high (above 20 percent for all 3 departments). With a net migration ratio of-0.15 migrant(s) per 1,000 people in 2000, migration levels are low, despite the high levels of unemployment. As in French Guiana, the population growth is expected to decline considerably over the next 20 years in the French Antilles, from 0.9 percent between 2000 to 2010 and 0.7 percent between 2010 and 2020 in Guadeloupe; and 0.8 percent and 0.5 percent between the same periods in Martinique. The population of Guadeloupe is expected to reach 499,215 in 2020, while the population of Martinique is expected to reach 469,724.

The vast majority of the inhabitants of Martinique and Guadeloupe are of African or mixed African/European ancestry (90 percent). Persons of European ancestry form about 5 percent of the populations of both departments, while the remaining population consists mostly of persons of East Indian, Lebanese, and Chinese descent. Comprising 66 percent of the population in French Guiana, persons of African or mixed ancestry constitute a smaller majority of the population than their compatriots in the French Antilles. Other ethnic groups in French Guiana include persons of European descent (12 percent), Amerindians (12 percent), and persons of East Indian and Chinese descent. Almost all the inhabitants of the 3 separate departments speak French, though many communicate primarily in the French dialect (patois) known as Creole. Approximately 95 percent of the populations of French Guiana and the French Antilles are Roman Catholic.


In Guadeloupe, agriculture constituted 6 percent of GDP and employed 15 percent of the work-force in 1997, which equaled approximately 120,000. Agricultural produce includes bananas, sugarcane, tropical fruits and vegetables, cattle, pigs, and goats. Large sugar plantations that produce for both export and local consumption purposes continue to dominate, though many have been turned over to the cultivation of bananas. In 2000, the latter accounted for 82 percent of Guadeloupe's total exports, as opposed to 75 percent in 1998. In 2000, 121,758 tons of bananas were exported, 72 percent of which were purchased by the French metropolis. Sugarcane production—Guadeloupe's second most important export—declined by 6 percent (674,822 tons) in 2000 as a result of excessive rain in cultivating regions. Melons, the third largest agricultural export, have increased enormously in production in the past 6 years, rising from 2,561 tons in 1995 to 4,939 tons in 2000.

An estimated 36 percent of the total area of the islands of Guadeloupe are cultivable arable lands, while 10 percent are pasture and 15 percent woodland (1997). Offshore fishing is a traditional source of food, and the main catches include lobster, crab, and octopus. By the end of the 1990s, 11 fishing farms were registered in Guadeloupe and experiments are under way to catch and market sea bream and grayling fish in order to respond to growing demand.


In 1997, agriculture constituted 6 percent of GDP in Martinique and employed 10 percent of the workforce, which equaled approximately 100,000. Agricultural activity is centered on the production of sugar cane, pineapples, and bananas, mainly for industrial processing and export. In 1997, exports of bananas represented 40 percent of Martinique's total exports. Crops such as sweet potatoes, yams, manioc, beans, cabbages, and tomatoes are grown primarily for domestic consumption. The majority of farms in Martinique are privately run by small-holders . An estimated 48 percent of the total area of the islands of Martinique are cultivable arable lands, while 25 percent are forest, and 19 percent savannah (1997). Virtually all of Martinique's meat requirements are met by imports. Fishing of lobster, cray-fish, crabs, and clams are important for domestic consumption.


According to the CIA World Fact-book, recent statistics on agricultural contribution to GDP and employment in French Guiana are unavailable (nor are they available for other sectoral contributions to GDP and employment). In 1980, however, approximately 18.2 percent of the Guianese workforce engaged in agriculture. Cultivation in French Guiana, where the land is mostly rainforest, is limited to the coastal area. Only 0.18 percent of the land is thus cultivated, with production being dominated by subsistence crops such as rice, maize, and bananas. Sugar cane is also grown for rum production, which is an important, albeit declining, export. Land tenure in French Guiana is highly unequal, with 56 percent and 3 percent of all farming operations occupying 13 percent and 57 percent of the land, respectively.

With shrimp accounting for approximately 50 percent of annual export trading value throughout the 1990s, fishing is the most important agricultural activity in French Guiana. Unfortunately, shrimp exports declined by 26.4 percent from 1999 to 2001, due, in large part, to increases in fuel prices—the largest expenditure for shrimp fishermen. Such increases meant that fishermen could not conduct their activities as often as in the past.



In 1997, industry in Guadeloupe constituted 9 percent of GDP and provided employment for 17 percent of the labor force. Industry is largely devoted to processing agricultural products and light manufactured goods. Major industrial activities include sugar refining, rum distilling, food processing, cement and brick manufacture, box and mail/wire making, mineral water bottling, and ship repair. An industrial free-port with tax and import duty exemptions was recently established at Jarry. Guadeloupe does not possess any mineral resources.

The construction industry, which is the third largest sector of activity in the Guadeloupian economy, employs 12 percent of the workforce in Guadeloupe. Most of the construction sector is dominated by government in the form of public works. Such works provide an enormous boost to the economy and help relieve unemployment. Indeed, the 5,500 public work enterprises in the construction sector comprise 19 percent of all industrial enterprises and engage approximately 10 percent of the entire labor force.


The industrial sector in Martinique is very similar to the industrial sector in Guadeloupe, but slightly more important to the economy in relative terms. Industry in Martinique constituted 11 percent of GDP and engaged 10 percent of the labor force in 1997. Major industries include a cement works, rum distilling, sugar refining, dairy produce, fruit canning, soft drinks manufacture, mineral water bottling and a polyethylene plant. Additionally, a major oil refinery boasts a capacity of 16,090 barrels per day (2000). As of 2000, 5 industrial zones with generous tax and import duty exemptions have been established in order to encourage light industrial development. According to , an online encyclopedic organization, the industrial sector remains underdeveloped in spite of the legislated incentives. Martinique, like Guadeloupe, does not possess any mineral resources.

The construction industry, also dominated by governmental public works in Martinique, experienced considerable growth in 2001 when total cement production rose to 243.1 thousand tons from 237.5 thousand the year before. Much of this production was designated for the building of large establishments such as a hospital and a large court.


With the exception of a few small factories processing agricultural or seafood products and a few sawmills, manufacturing is virtually non-existent in French Guiana. A rocket-launching site owned by the European Space Agency at Kourou comprises one of the most important economic activities. As a result of the space center, which was built in Kourou in 1964 because of its proximity to the equator, ultra-modern buildings now dominate the city.

In terms of mining, bauxite deposits of 42 million tons and kaolin deposits of 40 million tons were recently discovered, though extraction is not economically viable in the near future due to the department's poor infrastructure. There are also reserves of silica, niobium, and tantalite.

Significantly, gold is mined by a dozen Guianese companies and over 100 small-scale miners. Official figures for the mid-1990s indicate an annual gold production of approximately 3 tons. In 2000, gold accounted for almost half of the department's exports. The United States has played an important role in boosting Guianese gold exports. In 2000, the United States, which did not import any Guianese gold in 1999, imported 7 million euros worth of gold.

According to an article that appeared in the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique, gold mining, which exploded in 1993 following the discovery of reserves in Maripasoula, has engendered considerable negative environmental impacts. Forest areas have been cleared, upsetting the ecosystem, and mercury waste, a threat to both fauna and humans, has been dumped in streams and rivers. The Cayode, a group of Amerindians, have protested the environmental destruction. To make matters worse, violent conflict has erupted between opposing gold prospectors, who often hire Brazilians brought into the department illegally to work for highly exploitative wages. The government has not been very receptive to those that are dissatisfied with the situation, as gold mining provides employment for many individuals who would not be able to earn a livelihood otherwise. A contentious debate as to whether certain areas with gold reserves should be set aside for eco-tourism has raged in Guianese politics throughout the 1990s. Thus far, the anti-restriction perspective of the miners has prevailed.


The French Antilles and French Guiana have no territories or colonies.


Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Country, Economy, and Regional Information: French Antilles. <> . Accessed May 2001.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Country, Economy, and Regional Information: French Guiana. <> . Accessed May 2001.

"Country Profile: French Guiana." . <> . Accessed September 2001.

"Country Profile: Guadeloupe." . <> . Accessed September 2001.

"Country Profile: Martinique." . <> . Accessed September 2001.

Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (Canada). The French Antilles: Martinique and Guadeloupe, A Guide for Canadian Exporters. <> . Accessed September 2001.

INSEE. "Antilles-Guyanne: Bilan de Guadeloupe, Martinique etGuyane." Antiane (No. 49, June 2001). <> . Accessed September 2001.

Lemoine, Maurice. "Sustainable Development in French Guiana:The Politics of Gold-Prospecting." Le Monde Diplomatique. <> . Accessed September 2001. (Available by subscription only.)

United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <> . Accessed September 2001.

—Neil Burron


French Guiana: Cayenne; Martinique: Fort-de-France; Guadeloupe: Basse-Terre.


French franc (F). 1 franc equals 100 centimes. Notes are available in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 francs. Coins are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 centimes, and 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 francs.


French Guiana: Shrimp, timber, gold, rum, rosewood essence; Martinique: Refined petroleum products, bananas, rum; Guadeloupe: Bananas, sugar, and rum.


French Guiana: Food (grains, processed meat), machinery and transport equipment, fuels, chemicals; Martinique: Petroleum products, crude oil, foodstuffs, construction materials, vehicles, clothing, other consumer goods; Guadeloupe: Foodstuffs, fuels, vehicles, clothing and other consumer goods, construction material.


French Guiana: US$1 billion; Martinique: US$4.39 billion; Guadeloupe: US$3.7 billion (all in purchasing power parity, 1997 est.).


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