U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Italy, May 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs

Official Name: Republic of Italy 



Area: 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.); about the size of Georgia and 
Florida combined. Cities: Capital--Rome (pop. 2.7 million). Other 
cities--Milan, Naples, Turin. Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous. 
Climate: Generally mild Mediterranean; cold northern winters.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Italian(s). Population: 57 million. 
Annual growth rate: 0.2%. Ethnic groups: Primarily Italian, but small 
groups of German-, French-, Slovene-, and Albanian-Italians. Religion: 
Roman Catholic (majority). Language: Italian (official). Education: 
Years compulsory--14. Literacy--98%. Health: Infant mortality rate--
8/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--74 yrs. Work force: 23 million; 
unemployment 12%. Services--61%. Industry and commerce--32%. 


Type: Republic since June 2, 1946. Constitution: January 1, 1948.

Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), Council of Ministers 
(cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). 
Legislative--bicameral parliament: 630-member Chamber of Deputies, 325-
member Senate. Judicial--independent constitutional court and lower 
magistracy. Subdivisions: 94 provinces, 20 regions. Political parties: 
Forza Italia, Northern League, National Alliance, Democratic Party of 
the Left, Italian People's Party, Christian Democratic Center, 
Socialist, La Rete, Communist Renewal, Social Democratic, Republican, 
Liberal, Greens, Italian Renewal. Suffrage: Universal over 18.


GDP (1996): $1.21 trillion. Per capita income (1996): $21,190. GDP 
growth (1996): 0.7%. Natural resources: Fish, natural gas. Agriculture: 
Products--wheat, rice, grapes, olives, citrus fruits.

Industry: Types--automobiles, machinery, chemicals, textiles, shoes. 
Trade (1996): Exports--$250 billion; partners--EU 55%, U.S. 7%, OPEC 3%; 
mechanical products, textiles and apparel, transportation equipment, 
metal products, chemical products, food and agricultural products. 
Imports--$207 billion; partners--EU 61%, OPEC 6%, U.S. 5%; machinery and 
transport equipment, foodstuffs, ferrous and nonferrous metals, wool, 
cotton, energy products.


Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is 
diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-
highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square 
kilometer (490/sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being 
the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around 
Trieste. Other groups comprise small communities of Albanian, Greek, 
Ladino, and French origin. Although Roman Catholicism is the majority 
religion--99% of the people are nominally Catholic--all religious faiths 
are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution.

Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in the 
eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others 
inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula subsequently 
was unified under the Roman Republic. The neighboring islands also came 
under Roman control by the third century B.C.; by the first century 
A.D., the Roman Empire effectively dominated the Mediterranean world. 
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century 
A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions, 
and political unity was lost. Italy became an oft-changing succession of 
small states, principalities, and kingdoms which fought among themselves 
and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers. Popes of Rome ruled 
central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, 
who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a 

Commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning 
in the 11th century, and the influence of the Renaissance mitigated 
somewhat the effects of these medieval political rivalries. Although 
Italy declined after the 16th century, the Renaissance had strengthened 
the idea of a single Italian nationality. By the early 19th century, a 
nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy--
except for Rome--in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House 
of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870. 
From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a 
parliament elected under limited suffrage.

Italy's Cultural Contributions

Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th 
centuries. Literary achievements--such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso, 
and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione--
exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development 
of Western civilization, as did the painting, sculpture, and 
architecture contributed by giants such as da Vinci, Raphael, 
Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.

The musical influence of Italian composers Monteverdi, Palestrina, and 
Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera 
flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and 
Giacomo Puccini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, 
architects, composers, and designers contribute significantly to Western 

20th-Century History

During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany 
and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the 
Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former 
Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito 
Mussolini came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated 
political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist 
dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king, with little or no 
effective power, remained titular head of state.

Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and 
France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and 
Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following 
the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and 
appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. The Badoglio government 
declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and 
freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-
fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last two years of 
the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out in April 
1945. The monarchy was ended by a 1946 plebiscite, and a constituent 
assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic.

Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's 
frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to 
Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a 
free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under 
the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of 
Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and 
Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was 
made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977 
(currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 
1947 peace treaty, Italy also gave up its overseas territories and 
certain Mediterranean islands.

The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since 
its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the 
Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were 
confirmed by the present constitution, the state of Vatican City is 
recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While 
preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated 
several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman 
Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.


Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the 
monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was 
promulgated on January 1, 1948.

The Italian state is highly centralized. The prefect of each of the 
provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In 
addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with 
limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto 
Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special 
autonomy statutes. The other 15 regions were established in 1970 and 
vote for regional councils. The establishment of regional governments 
throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national 
governmental machinery.

The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Chamber of 
Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch 
composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) which is headed by the 
president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic 
is elected for seven years by the parliament sitting jointly with a 
small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime 
minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in 
practice composed mostly of members of parliament--must retain the 
confidence of both houses.

The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed 
majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 
legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in 
parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional 
basis. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. In addition to 315 
elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other 
persons appointed for life according to special constitutional 
provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but 
either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. 
Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a 
majority in both.

The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the 
Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial 
review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court, 
which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II 
innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as 
extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Principal Government Officials

President--Oscar Luigi Scalfaro 
Prime Minister--Romano Prodi 
Foreign Minister-- Lamberto Dini 
Ambassador to the United States--Ferdinando Salleo

Italy maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 Fuller Street 
NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-328-5500).


There have been frequent government turnovers since 1945. The dominance 
of the Christian Democratic (DC) party during much of the postwar period 
lent continuity and comparative stability to Italy's political 

From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters--
disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt, 
extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence--
demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. In 1993 referendums, 
voters approved substantial changes, including moving from a 
proportional to a largely majoritarian electoral system and the 
abolishment of some ministries.

Major political parties, beset by scandal and loss of voter confidence, 
underwent far-reaching changes. New political forces and new alignments 
of power emerged in March 1994 national elections--there was a major 
turnover in the new parliament, with 452 out of 630 deputies and 213 out 
of 315 senators elected for the first time. The 1994 elections also 
swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi--and his Freedom Pole coalition--
into office as Prime Minister. However, Berlusconi was forced to step 
down in January 1995 when one member of his coalition withdrew support. 
The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed 
by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which fell in early 1996.

In April 1996, national elections were again held and led to the victory 
of a center-left coalition (the Olive Tree) led by Romano Prodi. Prime 
Minister Prodi's coalition includes the Democratic Party of the Left 
(PDS), the Italian People's Party (PPI), and other small, center-left 
groups. To make up its majority in the chamber of deputies, however, the 
Prodi government depends on the Communist Renewal Party. In the April 
1997 local elections, voters split almost evenly between center-right 
and center-left coalitions.

Political Parties

Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape 
between 1992 and 1997. Scandal investigations touched thousands of 
politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a 
proportional to majoritarian voting system (with the requirement to 
obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) 
also altered political ground rules.

Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; 
the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. 
Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet. New 
movements such as Forza Italia, led by former Prime Minister Berlusconi, 
gained wide support. The National Alliance broke from the neo-fascist 
Italian Social Movement. A trend toward two large coalitions--one on the 
center-left and the other on the center-right--emerged from the April 
1995 regional elections. For the 1996 national elections, the center-
left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center right 
united again under the Freedom Pole. This emerging bi-polarity 
represents a major break from the fragmented, multi-party political 
landscape of the postwar era. The recommendations of the bilateral 
commission on reform and Parliament's subsequent decisions expected by 
the end of 1997 may strengthen the promise of real bi-polarity.

The largest parties in the Chamber are: Democratic Party of the Left -- 
moderate successor to the Italian Communist Party -- (21.1%); Forza 
Italia (20.6%); National Alliance (15.7%); Northern League (10.1%); 
Communist Renewal (8.6%); and Italian People's Party-Prodi's List 
(6.8%). The same rankings generally apply in the Senate.


The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War 
II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an 
industrial state ranked as the world's fifth-largest industrial economy. 
Italy belongs to the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations; it is 
a member of the European Union and the OECD. 

Italy has few natural resources. With much of the land unsuited for 
farming, it is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of 
iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley 
and offshore Adriatic, have grown in recent years and constitute the 
country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for 
manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are 
imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the 
manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned 
firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles, 
chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and clothing.

Italy's economy slowed from 2.8% GDP growth in 1995 to 0.7% in 1996, one 
of the lowest growth rates among the industrialized economies. GDP 
Growth is not expected to surpass 1.5% in 1997 and could be even less. 
Most forecasts expect it to rebound to 2% in 1998.

Continuing a positive trend of recent years, Italy's foreign balances 
improved further in 1996, with weakening export growth more than 
compensated by falling imports. Italy posted a $60-billion trade surplus 
(fob/fob) in 1996, up from a $44-billion surplus in 1995. Its current 
account surplus of $42 billion was also up from 1995's $28-billion 
surplus. Inflation fell to 3.9% in 1996 after rising to 5.4% in 1995 and 
is continuing its downward trend in 1997. Through May of 1997, inflation 
was running at a 1.6% year-on-year rate.

The biggest economic challenge facing Italy remains imbalances in public 
finances. Since 1992, economic policy in Italy has focused primarily on 
reducing government budget deficits and reining in the national debt. 
Successive Italian governments have adopted annual austerity budgets 
with significant cutbacks in spending, as well as new revenue raising 
measures. Italy has enjoyed a primary budget surplus, net of interest 
payments, for the last five years, and will do so again in 1997. The 
deficit in public administration declined in 1996 to 6.7% of GDP, down 
from 7% in 1995. According to government calculations, the deficit could 
fall to 3% of GDP in 1997, in line with the Maastricht Treaty target for 
European Monetary Union.

The national debt should continue to decline slowly. It stabilized in 
1995 at roughly 124% of GDP, declined slightly in 1996, and will 
continue to shrink in 1997 and beyond. Given the heavy weight of 
interest payments in government expenditures, public finances remain 
susceptible to international capital market developments, as well as 
domestic political developments.

Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European 
Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Italy's 
largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (18%), 
France (13%), and the United Kingdom (7%).

U.S.-Italy Economic Relations

The U.S.-Italian bilateral relationship is strong and growing. The U.S. 
and Italy cooperate closely on major economic issues, including within 
the G-7. With a large population and a high per capita income, Italy is 
one of the United States' most important trade partners. In 1996, the 
United States was the fifth-largest foreign supplier of the Italian 
market (with a market share of 5%) and the largest supplier outside the 
EU. Total trade between the United States and Italy exceeded $29 billion 
in 1996. The U.S. ran more than an $8-billion deficit with Italy. 

Significant changes are occurring in the composition of this trade which 
could narrow the gap. More value-added products such as office machinery 
and aircraft are becoming the principal U.S. exports to Italy. The 
change reveals the growing sophistication of the Italian market, and 
bilateral trade should expand further. During 1996, the United States 
imported about $18 billion in Italian goods while exporting about $10 
billion in U.S. goods to Italy. U.S. foreign direct investment in Italy 
at the end of 1995 exceeded $9.5 billion; Italian investment in the U.S. 
was roughly $8.7 billion.


Unemployment remains high (12.4% for 1996). It is especially severe in 
the south where average unemployment for the year was 21.8%. Women and 
youth have significantly higher rates of unemployment than men. A rigid 
labor market serves as a disincentive to job creation. There is a 
significant underground economy absorbing substantial numbers of people, 
but they work for low wages and without standard social benefits and 

Unions claim to represent 40% of the workforce. Most Italian unions are 
grouped in three major confederations: the Italian General Confederation 
of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Labor Unions (CISL) and 
the Union of Italian Labor (UIL). These confederations formerly were 
associated with important political parties or currents, but they have 
formally terminated such ties. Nowadays, the three often coordinate 
their positions before confronting management or lobbying the 
government. The three major confederations have an important 
consultative role on national social and economic issues. Among their 
major agreements are a four-year wage moderation agreement signed in 
1993, a reform of the pension system in 1995, and an employment pact, 
introducing steps for labor market flexibility in economically depressed 
areas, in 1996. The CGIL, CISL, and UIL are affiliates of the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.


Italy's agriculture is typical of the division between the agricultures 
of the northern and southern countries of the European Union. The 
northern part of Italy produces primarily grains, sugar beets, soybeans, 
meat, and dairy products, while the south specializes in producing 
fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat.

Even though much of its mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, 
Italy has a large work force (1.4 million) employed in farming. Most 
farms are small, with the average farm only seven hectares.


Italy was a founding member of the European Community--now the European 
Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a 
member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 
(NATO); the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 
(OECD); the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade 
Organization (GATT/WTO); the Organization for Security and Cooperation 
in Europe (OSCE), the Western European Union (WEU); and the Council of 
Europe. It chaired the CSCE and the G-7 in 1994 and the EU in 1996.

Italy firmly supports the United Nations and its international security 
activities. Italy actively participated in and deployed troops in 
support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and Cambodia 
and provides critical support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia. 
Italy is currently leading a 6,000-member multi-national protection 
force seeking to provide emergency and humanitarian assistance in 
Albania following the collapse of state authority and the economy in 
that country in early 1997.

The Italian Government seeks to obtain consensus with other European 
countries on various defense and security issues within the WEU as well 
as NATO. European integration and the development of common defense and 
security policies will continue to be of primary interest to Italy.


A strong NATO ally, Italy occupies an important strategic position in 
the Mediterranean, critical to regional security and for enhancing 
stability in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. To meet 
challenges of the post-Cold War era, Italy has proposed a New Defense 
Model that calls for the creation of more mobile and highly trained 
units staffed by career professionals. The Italian military is 
subordinate to civilian authority, which is vested in the Ministry of 
Defense. Under the authority of the Defense Minister, the armed forces 
have also been used in Italy for emergency relief and combating 
organized crime. For 1995, Italy's defense budget will equal 1% to 2% of 


The United States enjoys warm and friendly relations with Italy. The two 
are NATO allies and cooperate in the United Nations, in various regional 
organizations, and bilaterally for peace, prosperity, and defense. Italy 
has worked closely with the United States and others on such issues as 
NATO and UN operation in Bosnia, sanctions against the former 
Yugoslavia, assistance to Russia and the New Independent States (NIS), 
Middle East peace process multilateral talks, Somalia and Mozambique 
peacekeeping, and combating drug trafficking and terrorism.

Under long-standing bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, 
Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vincenza and Livorno 
(Army); Aviano (Air Force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples--home port 
for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 17,000 
military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO War College 
in Rome.

Italy remains a strong and active trans-Atlantic partner which, along 
with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and 
international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward 
this end, the Italian Government has cooperated with the U.S. in the 
formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--Reginald Bartholomew 
Deputy Chief of Mission--James B. Cunningham 
Political Affairs--Shaun Byrnes 
Economic Affairs--Robert Smolik 
Public Affairs--Cynthia Miller 
Commercial Affairs-Robert Connan 
Agricultural Section--Frank Padovano 
Defense Attache--Capt. Vincent P. Mocini, USN

Consular Posts

Consul General, Florence-Louis A. McCall 
Consul General, Milan--George Griffin 
Consul General, Naples--Clarke Ellis

The U.S. embassy in Italy is located at Via Veneto 119, Rome (tel. 
(39)(6) 46741


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides 
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are 
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel 
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all 
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency 
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and 
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term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
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To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will 
accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-
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The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is 
required). The CABB also carries international security information from 
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Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication 
series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a 
safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-
7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250. 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be 
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
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to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
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of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648) 

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives 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.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and 
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to 
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's 
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see Principal 
Government Officials listing in this publication). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous 
areas, are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a 
country (see Principal U.S. Embassy Officials listing in this 
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an 

Further Electronic Information: 

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, 
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy 
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World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to 
the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible at 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis 
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the 
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of 
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, 
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet 
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
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