Samoa country brief

Overview

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 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 49-member NLA 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. 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.

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) will be 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 supported by the national government of a Pacific Island country.

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

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

Agriculture

Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) programs in the Pacific embrace 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 the 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 Program

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. By 31 December 2015, 421 Samoans have participated in the Programme.

For more information visit the Australian Government Seasonal Worker Program [External Site]

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 2011 census recorded approximately 55,800 Australians identifying themselves as of Samoan ancestry.

New Colombo Plan

In 2015, 42 Australian students undertook a New Colombo Plan study experience in Samoa. They studied and worked in areas including nursing, social work, medicine and business.

In 2016, 80 Australians will study in Samoa with the assistance of the New Colombo Plan in areas such as nutrition, civil engineering, teacher education, journalism and geography.

Find out more information about the New Colombo Plan

Australia Awards

Australia is helping Samoa to build a skilled workforce through scholarships.

In 2015, Australia offered 50 long-term scholarships to talented Samoans to study at tertiary institutions in Australia and the Pacific. This included 40 long-term Awards (Australia Awards Scholarships and Australia Awards Pacific Scholarships) and 10 short-term Awards (Australia Awards Fellowships and Short Course Awards).

There are currently 144 Samoan students completing undergraduate, postgraduate and TVET 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.

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 and engineering. Graduates are in high demand when they return home.

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

Volunteers

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. In 2015–16, there are 21 assignments under the AVID program to Samoa.

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 2015, Australia imported goods from Samoa worth around $34 million (principally automotive wire harnesses produced by Samoa's largest private sector employer, Yazaki EDS). Australia is also Samoa’s fifth largest source of merchandise imports. In 2015, Australian merchandise exports to Samoa totalled $32 million (included meat, medical instruments, milk, cream, whey and yoghurt).

Samoa has a number of Australian investors including ANZ, which operates a commercial bank in Samoa.

High level visits

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 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.

December 2015: The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Steven Ciobo MP, led a bipartisan delegation to Samoa from 9-10 December. The delegation included Nola Marino MP, Member for Forrest and Chief Government Whip; Jane Prentice MP, Member for Ryan and Sharon Claydon MP, Member for Newcastle.

August 2015: The Minister for Education and Training, the Hon Christopher Pyne, visited Apia to attend the inaugural Pacific Region Commonwealth Youth Ministers’ Meeting.

September 2014: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason, visited Apia for the United Nations Small Island Developing States conference.

May 2014: The Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason, visited Samoa.

March 2012: Then Governor-General, HE Ms Quentin Bryce visited Samoa. She was accompanied by then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles, who has visited Samoa on a number of other occasions as well.

February 2012: Then Minister for Foreign Minister Senator, the Hon. Bob Carr visited Samoa.

2008 & 2011: Prime Minister Tuilaepa visited Australia as a Guest of Government.

Development Assistance

More information on development assistance to Samoa

Last Updated: 17 November 2016