Wallis and Futuna country brief
Wallis and Futuna comprises of three volcanic tropical islands and a number of tiny islets located northeast of Fiji and west of Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean. The territory is split between two island groups lying about 260 kilometres apart. The population of Wallis and Futuna is approximately 12,000. The Wallis and Futunian community in New Caledonia numbers some 35,000.
Wallis and Futuna is an Overseas Territory of France, with the President of the French Republic as its Head of State. Its constitutional status (statut) is set by a law of the French Republic (Law No. 61-814 of 29 July 1961, as amended). Power under the statute is divided among the Territorial Assembly, the Superior Administrator (Préfet) and three Circonscriptions, which incorporate the customary structures of Wallis and Futuna’s monarchies. Wallis and Futuna does not have any executive government and as such, does not enjoy the same level of autonomy in managing its own affairs as New Caledonia and French Polynesia do. Executive power is vested in the French Prefect, the Superior Administrator of the islands.
The Territorial Assembly, comprising 20 elected members, is the deliberative body for most social and economic matters. An election for membership of the Assembly was last held on 25 March 2012. The Assembly’s decisions require the Superior Administrator’s approval to become law. Michel Auboin is the current Superior Administrator (since March 2013). Wallis and Futuna is represented by one senator in the French Senate and one deputy in the French National Assembly.
As the representative of the French State, the Superior Administrator holds executive authority in the territory, except over issues which are traditionally the preserve of customary leaders. He controls the collectivity’s budget, administers its services, and is responsible for defence, law, customs, finance, health and education (except primary schooling, a matter conceded to the Catholic Church).
The islands’ Circonscriptions (Uvea, covering the Island of Wallis, and Alo and Sigave in Futuna) administer their own budgets and have a jurisdiction similar to that of a local council. Since each Circonscription is headed by a king, they are integrated with Wallis and Futuna’s customary and monarchical structures and deal also with religious matters and ritual. The kings receive a salary from the French Government. Their customary authority is generally respected. They can be replaced by customary means should they lose the respect and allegiance of their people. They hold authority over land ownership and use.
The three pillars on which Wallis and Futuna rest are Custom (empowered by monarchy), Catholic Church and the French State. There is little local sentiment in favour of independence from France.
Wallis and Futuna is a member of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Island Development Fund, and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation and is an associate member of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP). Wallis and Futuna participated in the preparatory meetings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). In 2006 Wallis and Futuna became a Pacific Islands Forum Observer.
The territory's other regional contacts are minimal, except with the other French entities, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. A framework agreement governing institutional relations between Wallis and Futuna and New Caledonia was signed in December 2003 in France. The agreement commits New Caledonia and France to support the economic development of Wallis and Futuna, particularly regarding access to employment, social services and health arrangements.
In 1997, Australia's training assistance program was extended to Wallis and Futuna. Australia continues to provide scholarships to applicants from the Territory, as part of its $1 million per annum of Australia Awards Scholarships for students from the French Pacific Collectivities. Since 2007 the scholarships have funded 12 students from Wallis and Futuna. These Australia Awards are administered through the Australian Consulate-General in Noumea, which is accredited to Wallis and Futuna. Following Cyclone Evan in December 2012, Australia provided $50,000 in funding for emergency relief and disaster recovery in Wallis and Futuna.
Local economic activity is essentially limited to traditional subsistence agriculture, fishing and some livestock breeding (mainly pigs). Even so, the territory does not produce enough food to meet local demand and foodstuffs represent around one-third of its imports. Building materials are the other main import. Unemployment is the territory's most pressing economic and social problem, with only an estimated 1800 of the Territory's 12,000 inhabitants in formal employment (of which more than half is in the public sector). Some revenue is provided by remittances from relatives living in New Caledonia, having migrated for work or education.
Wallis and Futuna is heavily dependent on financial support (some $140 million per annum) from France. The French Government directly funds many services (such as health, education and public service salaries) and provides a grant each year to balance the budget. A real concern for Wallis and Futuna is a growing ageing population with consequent economic development issues. Very few working age (18-40 year olds) live in the islands due to the limited formal employment opportunities. This is a current focus for the territorial government.
Trade and investment
Australian merchandise exports to Wallis and Futuna in 2012 totalled $3.9 million (principally prepared and preserved meat and cereal preparations).
High level visits
July 2011: Then Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, the Hon. Richard Marles, visited Wallis and Futuna to attend the 50th anniversary of its constitutional statute, in the capital Mata‘Utu.