Tuvalu flag

Tuvalu country brief

Introduction

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is located midway between Hawaii and Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. It comprises nine islands (four reef islands and five coral atolls), eight of which are inhabited. Tuvalu's population is approximately 11,000, with about half living on the atoll of Funafuti, which is the capital.

Political overview

Tuvalu became independent from the United Kingdom in October 1978. It is a constitutional monarchy with a 15-member unicameral parliament elected every four years. Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, elected by a majority of the members of parliament, and several ministers. The Prime Minister is the head of government. There are no organised political parties and members usually align with informal groupings. MPs have very close links with their island constituencies and effort is directed towards balancing island representation in Cabinet.

HM Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State and is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor-General, currently the Hon Sir Iakoba Taeia Italei. Tuvalu's last national elections were held on 16 September 2010. On 2 August 2013, Enele Sopoaga was elected Prime Minister following a parliamentary motion of no confidence in the previous government, led by Willy Tevali. Prime Minister Sopoaga and his new cabinet of seven were sworn in on 5 August 2013. Tuvalu's next general election is due to be held in late 2014.

Economic overview

Most of Tuvalu's population is involved in subsistence fishing and agriculture. Remittances from seafarers working on overseas vessels are a significant (if declining) source of income for many families. The money economy is dominated by government activity. Fishing licences and marketing of Tuvalu's internet domain name '.tv' contribute to government revenue.

The Tuvalu Trust Fund

In 1987, the Tuvalu Government established a publicly owned investment fund to provide a safety net against fluctuations in government income. The earnings of the Tuvalu Trust Fund are used to help the government finance the gap between its annual budgeted revenue and expenditure.

The Governments of Australia, New Zealand and the UK have made major contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund, with smaller grants coming from Japan and the Republic of Korea. Australia is a member of the Trust Fund Board. Revenue from the Trust Fund has enabled the government to undertake development programs, including upgrading outer island schools and fisheries centres.

Bilateral relationship

Australia's Partnership for Development with Tuvalu aims to raise the standard of living of Tuvaluans and help the country adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. Australia is helping to boost Tuvalu's long-term economic prospects by making contributions to the Tuvalu Trust Fund and improving financial management and planning. We are also helping to develop a skilled Tuvalu workforce by providing support for early education and opportunities for tertiary study.

More information on Australia's development assistance to Tuvalu

During Tuvalu's drought emergency in 2011, Australia and New Zealand led international efforts to address critical water shortages by providing emergency water supplies and desalination plants. Through the Defence Cooperation Program, Australia provides technical and financial assistance to support maritime surveillance in Tuvalu's Exclusive Economic Zone. In 1994, Australia gifted a patrol boat, the HMTSS Te Mataili, to Tuvalu. As well as maritime surveillance, Te Mataili is also capable of conducting search and rescue operations. Full-time, in-country Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers provide follow-on support for the vessel, and assistance with the development of indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities. The Defence Cooperation Program also supports Tuvalu's Police Maritime Wing's operational ability through the provision of fresh water tanks, marine boarding ladders and sea anchor.

Australia and Tuvalu signed a memorandum of understanding for Tuvalu's participation in the Seasonal Worker Program in February 2012. Under the Program, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.

The former Governor-General, Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited Tuvalu in March 2012. She was accompanied by former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles. Mr Marles visited Tuvalu most recently in August 2012.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australian merchandise exports to Tuvalu in 2012-13 totalled $1.6 million. Australian currency is legal tender in Tuvalu, but Tuvalu also circulates its own coins.

Updated March 2014