French Polynesia country brief

Overview

French Polynesia is a French overseas territory with significant autonomy under the terms of the 2004 Organic Law (2004-192). It comprises five archipelagos (Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier and Australs).  French Polynesia is spread over more than 5.3 million square kilometres, approximately the size of Europe. It is located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 6,000 kilometres east of Australia and 7,500 kilometres west of Chile.

French Polynesia’s main island, Tahiti, became a French protectorate in 1842, and France took possession of French Polynesia as a whole in 1880. The population in 2016 was 280,208.

Political overview

French Polynesians are French citizens with the right to live anywhere in France. They are entitled to vote in local and French national elections.

The President of the French Republic is French Polynesia’s Head of State and is represented by a High Commissioner, currently Rene Bidal.

French Polynesia was designated a French overseas territory in 1946 and given a Territorial Assembly on 25 October 1946. French Polynesia's constitutional status, its institutions, legal powers and relationship with France is defined by statute which has been amended several times since 1946 by the French Government.

At that time, the government of French Polynesia was granted executive responsibility for many areas (including local financial and economic affairs, customs and taxation, tourism, transport, agriculture, fisheries, public works, health, primary and secondary education, social welfare and other internal matters).

A new statute in 1996 gave French Polynesia ‘autonomous status' and broadened its powers to include control over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), air and sea transport links, telecommunications and postal services and internal security. French Polynesia was also granted authority to negotiate and sign in its own right administrative arrangements and regional cooperation agreements with countries in the Pacific region.

Under amendments made to France's Constitution in 2003 to decentralise power in France, French Polynesia, like other parts of France, was given greater self-regulation measures. However, these amendments strongly anchored all the French overseas possessions to the French Republic by including the names of all 10 overseas entities in the French Constitution. French Polynesia is among the ‘overseas collectivities' (collectivités d'outre-mer), which are governed by Article 74 of France's Constitution.

Under Article 74, a new statute came into force through an Organic Law on 27 February 2004. This strengthened French Polynesia's autonomy and redefined the former overseas territory as ‘an overseas country within the French Republic (pays d'outre-mer as specified in article 1 of the Organic Law). The position of President of French Polynesia was also created.

French Polynesia is a parliamentary democracy, with a 57-seat Assembly and an executive headed by a president elected by a simple majority vote within the Assembly for a five-year term. Assembly members also serve five-year terms.

French Polynesia uses its own flag, seal and anthem in conjunction with the French national symbols.

On 6 May 2013 the Tahoeraa Huiraatira party won over 45 per cent of votes in the second round of territorial elections. Gaston Flosse was sworn in as President on 17 May 2013. On the 12 September 2013, French Polynesia’s territorial Assembly elected Edouard Fritch as President after French President Hollande refused Gaston Flosse’s request for a presidential pardon after the French High Court upheld Flosse’s conviction and sentence for corruption.  In 2015, Edouard Fritch created his own party, Tapura Huiraatira, which currently holds government through a majority in the Assembly. The next territorial election is scheduled for 2018.

In May 2013, French Polynesia was reinscribed on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Economic overview

French Polynesia's economy has faced a number of challenges since the ending of nuclear testing in 1996, due largely to the country's limited resources and options for diversification, and its isolation. However in recent years it has seen an upswing in economic activity and in the diversification of its economy.

Financial transfers from France (approximately $2 billion per annum) have traditionally made up around 30 per cent of French Polynesia's GDP, but in recent years this has risen as high as 60 per cent. Of these transfers, approximately 50 per cent constitutes expenditure for local responsibilities, 45 per cent for French State based responsibilities such as defence, justice, security and higher education and 7 per cent going directly to municipal governments.

Foreign relations

French Polynesia maintains close ties with other Pacific island countries and territories, particularly its near Polynesian neighbours through their Polynesian Leaders’ Group, trading partnerships and other links.

French Polynesia is a member of the Pacific Community (SPC), the South Pacific Regional Evironment Priogram (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Development Progam (PIDP), and the Soputh Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO).

In 20176, leaders decided to admit French Polynesia as a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Bilateral relations

The Australian Consul-General in Noumea is accredited to French Polynesia, and Australia has an Honorary Consul based in Papeete.

Visa waiver arrangements negotiated by Australia and France in 1998, and a working holiday-maker arrangement with France from 1 January 2004, have also been beneficial in promoting two-way exchange.

Australia is currently French Polynesia’s 8th largest import source and 11th most important export destination. In 2016, Australian merchandise exports to French Polynesia totalled $49 million (primarily cereal preparations, cheese, coffee and substitutes and liquefied propane and butane). High import duties on non-EU products and some quotas restrict the potential for Australian exports.

Distance and transport costs are other limiting factors. An ongoing program of tax reform, involving the phased elimination of a number of French Polynesian import duties in favour of a value added tax, should make market access conditions more attractive in the longer term, although French/EU exporters will probably continue to enjoy certain practical advantages (including existing relationships and a common language and legal system).

In 2016, Australia imported $1.8 million worth of goods from French Polynesia, mostly pearls and gems. As French Polynesia is currently entitled to 'developing country' status under the Australian Customs Tariff, most French Polynesian goods entering the Australian market are given a five percent reduction on the general tariff rate. There is negligible Australian investment in French Polynesia and approximately $68 million of French Polynesian investment in Australia

People to people links

Since 2007, Australia awarded 20 Australia Awards scholarships to French Polynesian students. Although French Polynesians students are no longer eligible for Australia Awards scholarships given French Polynesia’s non-eligibility as an aid recipient, they can still participate in the Australia Awards – Endeavour Awards scholarship program.

High-level visits and meetings

  • July 2017: meeting between the Vice President of French Polynesia, Mr Teva Rohrfritsch and Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, in Noumea
  • 2011: visit by the Hon Richard Marles MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs.

Visitor information

Australians travelling to French Polynesia are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.

Last Updated: 10 August 2017