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Samoa country brief

Samoa country brief


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 192,000 population.

In 1962, Samoa became the first Pacific island country to achieve independence.

Political overview

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 Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, sworn in on 21 July 2017.

A 49-member National Legislative Assembly is elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms, with all seats reserved for matai – people who have chiefly status in Samoa's villages.

The Samoan Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and 12 Ministers. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi has been in office since 23 November 1998.

At Samoa's most recent election on 4 March 2016, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which has governed Samoa since 1982, was returned to power under Prime Minister Tuilaepa. The HRPP won 46 of the 49 parliamentary seats. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party won two seats, and one seat was won by an independent candidate.

The March 4 election was Samoa's first enacting a constitutional reform reserving five seats, or 10 per cent, of the 49 parliamentary seats for women electoral candidates. If fewer than five existing seats are won by women, additional seats (to a maximum total of 54 seats) are added to be held by women candidates with the highest number of outright votes. This reform legislation was passed in 2013 and was the first introduced in a Pacific Island country.

Four women candidates were successful in the March election, and a fifth was appointed under the reform legislation, bringing the total number of MPs to 50. Former Minister for Justice and Courts Administration, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, was appointed Deputy Leader of the HRRP.

Samoa has an independent judiciary and a separate court to resolve disputes over land and traditional titles.


Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) programs in the Pacific support Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries sustain many households in these countries and supply the majority of livelihoods, as well as food security.

The ACIAR strategy works towards underpinning the competitiveness and food security of these sectors. Women, in particular, have a central role in household food gardening, tree crop production, and marketing of horticultural, tree crop and fisheries products. To achieve sustainable change, ACIAR will help develop innovative approaches that engage, empower and invest in women. Transforming these agricultural, fisheries and forestry systems into sustainable income-generating activities through improved productivity and marketing will enhance food security and self-reliance, and reduce poverty.

For more information visit the ACIAR website

Direct Aid Program

The Direct Aid Program supports projects which directly contribute to the welfare and income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Find out more about the Direct Aid Programme

People-to-people links

Seasonal Worker Programme

Samoa participates in Australia's Seasonal Worker Programme. The Programme started in 2012 to help Australian employers access short-term labour in rural and regional areas to meet their seasonal harvest needs. As at 30 June 2017, 818 Samoans have participated in the Programme.

For more information visit the Australian Government Seasonal Worker Programme

Security cooperation

Australia and Samoa signed a Partnership for Security in August 2010 in Port Vila. Under the Defence Cooperation Program 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 support for the vessel and develop indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities.

The program also provides in-country and Australia-based training in technical and professional skills, good governance and management. As well as maritime surveillance, the patrol boat is also provides a search and rescue capability, which was significant in the aftermath of the 2009 tsunami, when the patrol boat acted as a mobile response unit assessing damage and managing communications.

Tourism and diaspora

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, church and institution-to-institution links. The 2016 census recorded approximately 76,000 Australians identifying themselves as of Samoan ancestry.

New Colombo Plan

To date, the New Colombo Plan has supported over 200 students to study and undertake work-based learning activities in Samoa. 80 Australian students spent time in Samoa in 2017 under the Plan.

Find out more information about the New Colombo Plan

Australia Awards

Australia is helping Samoa to build a skilled workforce through scholarships. The Australia Awards provide opportunities for Samoans to study at tertiary institutions in Australia and the region. The awards enable students to gain the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to their country's development.

Australia Awards are offered in specialised fields such as science, health, education and engineering. Graduates are in high demand when they return home.

There are currently 143 Samoan students completing undergraduate, postgraduate and vocational courses in Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu and via online distance education. Since 1996, more than to 300 Samoan Australia Award alumni have graduated with relevant qualifications to address human resource gaps in the workforce.

A study conducted by the Lowy Institute in November 2011 found that 25 per cent of Samoa's leaders had received a tertiary scholarship funded by Australia. This demonstrates the major contribution that Australian scholarships have made in supporting the learning opportunities and outcomes of Samoans.

Find out more information about the Australia Awards


The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. There are currently around 20 Australian Government-funded volunteers in Samoa working in a range of areas, such as law and justice, health and emergency management response.

The AVID program is broadly aligned with the Australian Aid program strategic priorities in Samoa, which are:

  1. to enable economic growth;
  2. to help Samoa develop a healthy and educated population, and
  3. to strengthen governance.

Australia's overseas volunteer program, Australian Volunteers for International Development AVID, has a one-stop entry point to Australian volunteering.

Find out more information about the Australian Volunteers

Economic overview

Samoa has a small and developing economy that has generally performed well in recent years. Key domestic sectors are services, tourism and agriculture.

Remittances from Samoans working abroad are a key part of the economy. New Zealand, Australia and the United States are the main source of remittances. Foreign development assistance in the form of loans, grants and direct aid is an important component of the economy. Approximately 60 per cent of the population is employed informally and work in subsistence agriculture or local commercial ventures.

Trade and investment

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 in recent decades.

Australia is the main destination for Samoan merchandise exports. In 2016-17, Australia imported goods from Samoa worth around $31 million (principally automotive wire harnesses). Australia is also Samoa's fifth largest source of merchandise imports. In 2016-17, Australian merchandise exports to Samoa totaled $31 million (included meat, paper, milk, cream, whey and yoghurt).

The ANZ Bank has a commercial bank in Samoa.

High level visits

September 2017: The Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, attended the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting in Apia, Samoa.

July 2017: The Governor-General, the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Ret'd), visited Samoa on a bilateral visit.

December 2016: The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Samoa for a Green Climate Fund board meeting.

December 2016: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, led a bipartisan visit to Samoa. The delegation included the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, and the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Claire Moore.

September 2016: The Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja attended the 11th Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers Meeting.

August 2016: The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Samoa on a bilateral visit.

April 2016: A delegation of female federal, state and territory Members of Parliament and the Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, attended the Pacific Women's Parliamentary Partnerships Forum. During the visit, the Ambassador for Women and Girls also attended the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Board meeting.

Development Assistance

More information on development assistance to Samoa

Last Updated: 24 January 2018
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