Samoa country brief
Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa, is a Polynesian Pacific country northeast of Fiji. Samoa consists of four inhabited and five uninhabited islands. The capital Apia is located on Upolu, the most populous and developed of the islands. Upolu and Savai'i, the other main island, account for 99 per cent of Samoa's 195 000 population.
In 1962, Samoa became the first Pacific island country to achieve independence. Samoa celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence on 1 June 2012.
In September 2009 Samoa changed from driving on the right to driving on the left. On 29 December 2011, Samoa moved the international dateline east and skipped a day to align its time zone more closely with New Zealand and Australia.
Samoa is a stable parliamentary democracy. Samoa's constitution and its political system take substantial account of Samoan traditions and culture.
Samoa's Head of State is His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, who was elected by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in July 2012 for a second consecutive five-year term.
The NLA is elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. All 49 seats are reserved for matai, which are people who have the status of chiefs in Samoa's villages. The Samoan Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and 12 Ministers. Currently, all other Government MPs hold appointments as associate ministers, which means there are no government backbenchers. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi has been in office since 23 November 1998.
In elections held on 4 March 2011, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has governed Samoa since 1982, was returned to power. The HRPP has 37 of the 49 parliamentary seats. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party has the remaining 12 seats.
Samoa has an independent judiciary, including a specific court to resolve disputes over land and traditional titles.
Samoa has a small and developing economy that has generally performed well in recent years.
Remittances from Samoans working abroad are a key part of the economy. New Zealand is the main source of remittances, followed by Australia and the United States. Foreign development assistance in the form of loans, grants and direct aid is an important component of the economy.
Samoa is reliant on imports and has a large trade deficit. Its indigenous exports consist mainly of fish and agriculture products, but their proportion of GDP has declined steadily in recent decades. A large proportion of the population is employed informally and works in subsistence agriculture or low-level commercial ventures.
The economy suffered badly from the 2008 global recession and the 2009 tsunami, but had stabilised and was again growing, albeit slowly, before Cyclone Evan struck in December 2012. The World Bank has estimated total damages and losses from the cyclone at $206 million – equivalent to 30 per cent of GDP – making it Samoa’s most expensive natural disaster ever. In comparison, the total costs following the 2009 tsunami were assessed at $131 million.
Virgin Samoa (formerly Polynesian Blue), a joint venture airline between Virgin Australia, the Government of Samoa and Aggie Grey's Resort and Hotel, commenced operations in 2005. The airline is profitable and the venture has helped to free up government funding that had supported the state-owned Polynesian Airlines. Polynesian Airlines has now been downsized to a regional (Apia-Pago Pago) and domestic role.
Australia's relations with Samoa are strong and productive, underpinned by our aid, defence cooperation program, the Samoa-Australia Police Partnership and people-to-people links. Australia's first representative was accredited in 1971 and a High Commission was established in Apia in 1977.
Australia is the largest development partner to Samoa. Around 70 per cent of bilateral funding is provided directly to the Government of Samoa and is managed and accounted for using Samoa’s internal systems. Samoa’s governance is among the strongest in the Pacific.
Australia is providing a total of $43.5 million in official development assistance to Samoa in 2012-13 under the Samoa-Australia Partnership for Development, which has four priority outcomes: improved governance and economic; improved health; improved education; and law and justice.
In September 2012 Australia and Samoa agreed to increase the Partnership’s efforts to improve economic infrastructure
Australia has also responded quickly to support Samoa to recover in times of natural disasters. In 2009-10, an additional $12 million was provided to help Samoa respond to the devastating September 2009 tsunami. Following Cyclone Evan in December 2012 Australia provided $1.65 million for immediate humanitarian assistance. In February 2013, Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr announced a further $7 million to assist in the reconstruction and repair of schools and health facilities damaged or destroyed by the cyclone. Further information about Australia’s development assistance program to Samoa can be found on the AusAID website.
Samoa participates in the Seasonal Worker Program. Under the Program, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
Australia and Samoa signed a Partnership for Security in August 2010 in Port Vila. Under the Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) with Samoa, Australia provided a Pacific Class Patrol Boat to the Samoan Police Service's maritime wing in March 1988. Full-time, in-country Royal Australian Navy maritime surveillance and technical advisers provide follow-on support for the vessel and develop indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities. The DCP also provides in-country and Australia-based training in technical and professional skills, good governance and management. As well as maritime surveillance, the PPB is also able to provide a search and rescue capability, which was significant in the aftermath of the tsunami, when the PPB acted as a mobile response unit assessing damage and managing communications.
The bilateral relationship is enhanced by regular high-level visits. The Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce AC CVO, visited Samoa in March 2012. She was accompanied by former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles, who has visited Samoa on a number of other occasions as well. Most recently, Foreign Minister Senator Carr visited Samoa in February 2012. Prime Minister Tuilaepa visited Australia in June 2011 and July 2008 as a Guest of Government.
Samoa and Australia enjoy strong people-to-people links. An increasing number of Australians are visiting Samoa each year as tourists, while the number of Samoans travelling to Australia is also increasing. There are also a range of community and institution-to-institution links. Approximately 55 800 Australians identify themselves as of Samoan ancestry.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship
Samoa enjoys a balance of trade surplus with Australia. Australia is the destination for automotive wire harnesses produced by Samoa's largest private sector employer, Yazaki EDS. The harnesses are imported under a concession Australia provides Samoa under the South Pacific Region Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA). The current derogation expires in 2013. Australia is one of Samoa's main sources of imports after New Zealand. Australian merchandise exports to Samoa in 2011-12 totalled $29.14 million. Australia's imports from Samoa in the same period totalled $34 million.
Samoa has a number of Australian investors including Westpac and ANZ, which operate commercial banks in Samoa and The Fosters Group which owns Samoa Breweries.
Australians travelling to Samoa are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.
Updated March 2013