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 281,000 (2017). 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.

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 had a High Commission in Port Vila since Vanuatu declared independence in 1980.  Prior to this the Australian Consulate was opened in 1978. The Vanuatu Government established a High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.

Australia is Vanuatu's largest bilateral aid donor and closest security partner. The Australian aid budget for Vanuatu is an estimated to be $66.2 million in 2019-20. Australia and Vanuatu signed the Vanuatu-Australia Aid Partnership in 2016, focusing on improving economic governance, infrastructure, education, health and law and justice. Australia’s aid is delivered through a range of partners including the Vanuatu Government, the private sector and community organisations.

Development assistance

More information on development assistance to Vanuatu.

Information on an innovative program that is helping to vaccinate children in remote parts of Vanuatu.

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 before growth rebounded to 4 per cent in 2016 and 4.5 per cent in 2017, largely driven by recovery in tourism and agricultural production. In 2017 Vanuatu's GDP per capita was US$2,976.20.

Trade and investment

Australian merchandise exports to Vanuatu in 2016-17 totalled $72.9 million.

Australia is one of Vanuatu’s leading trade and investment partners, with two way trade in goods and services totalling over A$300 million in 2017. Two-thirds of long stay tourists to Vanuatu and almost all cruise ship passengers are Australian.

Vanuatu provides the largest cohort of workers in the Pacific under the Seasonal Worker Programme (over 3,300 in 2017-18).  Under the SWP, workers from Pacific countries work in Australia in agriculture and other sectors to help meet seasonal demand. Vanuatu is also participating in the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS). The PLS helps to meet low and semi-skilled business demand across all sectors in rural and regional Australia.

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

February 2019: The Assistant Minister for Trade Tourism and Investment, Mark Coulton, visited Vanuatu to attend the Australia-Vanuatu Business Forum.

February 2019: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited Vanuatu for meetings with the Government of Vanuatu.

January 2019: Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the first bilateral visit to Vanuatu by an Australian Prime Minister, accompanied by the Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston

June 2019: The Hon Charlot Salwai MP, Prime Minister of Vanuatu visited Australia as a guest of the Australian Government.

April 2018: The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, accompanied His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on his visit Vanuatu, as part of His Royal Highness’ Australian Tour.

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 then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, then 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.

Last Updated: 5 April 2019