Vanuatu country brief

Overview

Vanuatu is an archipelagic nation of 83 islands, extending over 1000 kilometres in a north-south direction between the equator and the tropic of Capricorn. It lies some 2000 kilometres to the northeast of Brisbane in the Coral Sea, at similar latitudes to Cairns in North Queensland. The population of Vanuatu is approximately 272,000. Port Vila, on the island of Efate, is the capital.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu was jointly governed by British and French administrations before attaining independence on 30 July 1980.

Political overview

Vanuatu has a unicameral 52-member parliament, elected to a four-year term by universal adult suffrage. The president of the republic (constitutional head of state) is elected for a five-year term through secret ballot by an electoral college comprising members of parliament and the presidents of Vanuatu's six provincial governments. The current President, His Excellency Obed Moses Tallis, was elected on 6 July 2017.The prime minister is elected by parliament from among its members by secret ballot.

Following national elections on 22 January 2016, the parliament elected Charlot Salwai Prime Minister of Vanuatu on 11 February 2016. Prime Minister Salwai’s governing coalition currently holds 46 of the 52 seats. In the previous parliament Vanuatu had four prime ministers: Moana Carcasses Kalosil from 23 March 2013 until 15 May 2014; Joe Natuman from 15 May 2014 until 11 June 2015; and Sato Kilman Livtuvanu twice, from 19 November 2012 to 21 March 2013 and 11 June 2015 to 11 February 2016.

Bilateral relations

Australia has a close relationship with Vanuatu. Australia is an important economic partner for Vanuatu, providing the country with the majority of its tourists, foreign direct investment and aid. There is also a significant resident population of Australians (approximately 3000). Australia and Vanuatu enjoy a very broad range of links at government, business and community levels. Australia has a High Commission in Port Vila and the Vanuatu Government established a High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.

Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral aid donor. The Australian aid budget for Vanuatu is an estimated $69.8 million in 2017-18. Our Governments recently signed the Vanuatu-Australia Aid Partnership, which focuses on improving economic governance, infrastructure, education, health and law and justice. We work with a range of partners including the Vanuatu Government, the private sector and community organisations.

The Australian Federal Police provides assistance to the Vanuatu Police Force as part of the Vanuatu Policing and Justice Support Program. Australia also has a Defence Cooperation Program with Vanuatu, which was established in 1983. Australia assists Vanuatu in maintaining and operating its Pacific Patrol Boat (the RVS Tukoro), donated by Australia in 1987.

Economic overview

Most of Vanuatu's population lives in rural areas where subsistence farming, fishing and production of cash crops such as kava, coconut and cocoa are the main sources of livelihood. Goods exports are dominated by agricultural products, particularly kava, coconut products, beef and cocoa. Vanuatu's economic growth has recently been driven largely by tourism and construction. Tourism and tourism-related services sectors (wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants, and transport and communication) account for approximately 40 per cent of GDP and one third of people in formal employment. Construction activity is driven by private-sector retail, residential development and a number of donor-funded construction projects mostly on the island of Efate, particularly in Port Vila. The overall economic impact of Tropical Cyclone Pam has been significant, as real GDP contracted by more than two per cent. Growth is projected to reach 4.5 per cent in 2017, largely driven by recovery in tourism and agricultural production. In 2016 Vanuatu’s GDP per capita was US$2,908.60.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2016 totaled $87.9 million.

Australia is the major source of foreign investment in the Vanuatu economy with a focus on tourism, finance and construction. Australian investments in Vanuatu totaled $116 million in 2016. Two-thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers are Australian.

Vanuatu participates in the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP). Under the SWP, workers from Pacific countries are recruited to work in Australia in horticulture and other sectors to meet seasonal harvest needs. Ni-Vanuatu are currently the second largest cohort of SWP workers from the Pacific.

Tropical Cyclone Pam

Tropical Cyclone Pam caused widespread damage to Vanuatu in March 2015. Australia provided $50 million for humanitarian assistance and long-term recovery and is continuing to work closely with the Government of Vanuatu to support reconstruction efforts. Further details on Australia’s support for cyclone recovery and reconstruction in Vanuatu.

High level visits

August 2017: Sharman Stone, Ambassador for Women and Girls, visited Vanuatu to attend the Pacific Women’s Advisory Board Meeting.

July 2017: The Governor-General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), visited Vanuatu (Port Vila) for the late President, His Excellency Reverend Womtelo Baldwin Lonsdale’s funeral.

December 2016: A bipartisan delegation visited Vanuatu. The delegation comprised the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP,  Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Senator Claire Moore, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

November 2016: Natasha Stott-Despoja, former Ambassador for Women and Girls visited Vanuatu, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

August 2016: The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, visited Vanuatu. The Minister met with Prime Minister Charlot Salwai; Foreign Minister, Bruno Leingkone;  Finance Minister, Gaetan Pikioune; Infrastructure Minister  Jotham Napat, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Johnny Koanapo.

March 2016: The Director of the Vanuatu Department of Women’s Affairs, Mrs Dorosday Kenneth Watson, visited Australia. She met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, , and former Governor-General, the Hon Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.

July 2015: An Australian parliamentary delegation visited Vanuatu. The delegation comprised Senators, the Hon Ian Macdonald and Janet Rice, and Jane Prentice MP.

July 2015: The Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade, the Hon Serge Rialuth Vohor, visited Australia to attend the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in Sydney.

July 2015: The Governor-General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) and Lady Cosgrove visited Vanuatu (Port Vila and Tanna) to view progress in Vanuatu’s recovery from Tropical Cyclone Pam and the impact of Australian support. The Governor-General met with the President, His Excellency Reverend Womtelo Baldwin Lonsdale, and the Prime Minister, the Hon Sato Kilman Livtuvanu.

March 2015: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, visited Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam. The Foreign Minister met the Prime Minister, the Hon Joe Natuman, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade, the Hon Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, and then Minister of Climate Change Adaptation, Meteorology, Geo-Hazards, Environment and Energy, the Hon James Bule.

Development assistance

More information on development assistance to Vanuatu.

Last Updated: 9 August 2017