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Map of Samoa

Map of Samoa.
flag of the Samoa.


Key facts


Official Name - The Independent State of Samoa
Land Area - 2,820 sq km on two main islands of Upolu and Savai’i and seven small islands
Population - 187,820 (2011 census)
Capital City - Apia
Religions - Mostly Christian: 32% of the population affiliate to the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, while the Roman Catholic, Latter-Day Saints, and Methodist Churches account for around 19%, 15%, and 13% of the population, respectively (2011 census).
Official Languages - Samoan, English
Currency - Samoan Tala SAT$ (or Samoan dollar) = 100 sene (cents)
Exchange rate - SAT$1.90 = NZ$1
EEZ - 98,500 sq km


Political System - Parliamentary democracy with a Westminster-style Cabinet government
National government - The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) holds 36 of the 49 seats in the Fono
National legislature - Unicameral, 49-member Fono: 47 members are elected by all Samoans aged 21 or over to represent 41 constituencies, while the remaining two are elected from the electoral rolls made up of voters with no village affiliation. The Fono sits for five-year terms.

Last election
- 4 March 2011 (legislature); 2012 (Head of State)
Next election - March 2016 (legislature); 2017 (Head of State)

Head of State
- His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi; first elected 18 June 2007 following the death of Malietoa Tanumafili II and re-elected in July 2012. The Head of State is elected by the Legislative Assembly to serve a five-year term (with no term limits).

Head of Government -Prime Minister Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi. Prime Minister Tuilaepa is also responsible for Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Immigration, and the Office of Attorney General.

Council Of Deputies
- Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa II

Key Ministers -

Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour

Le Mamea Ropati
Minister of Agriculture

Tuisugaletaua Sofara Aveau
Minister of Communications and Information Technology

Magele Mauiliu Magele
Minister of Education, Sports and Culture

Faumuina Tiatia Liuga
Minister of Finance

Tuitama Dr Leau Talalelei Tuitama
Minister of Health

Fiame Naomi Mataafa
Minister of Justice and Courts Administration

Fa’amoetauloa Ulaitino Fa’ale Tuma’ali’i
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment

Sala Fata Pinati
Minister of Police, Prison and Fire Servives

Tuiloma Pule Lameko
Minister of Revenue

Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Leiataua
Minister of Women, Community and Social Development

Manu’alesagalala Enokati Posala
Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure

Key Opposition MPs -
The Tautua Samoa Party is the recognised Opposition. It holds 13 seats of the 49-seat Fono.

Main political parties - Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Tautua Samoa Party (TSP).


GDP - SAT$1.562 billion
Real GDP growth - 0.8%
GDP per capita - SAT$8,394

- SAT$78 million (year ending 2012)
Main exports - Fish; coconut oil and cream; copra; automotive parts (not included in exports figure above); taro; beer; nonu fruit products.

-SAT$792 million
Main imports - Machinery and equipment; industrial supplies; foodstuffs

Tourism -
SAT$248.9 million
Remittances -
SAT$409.45 million

New Zealand’s ODA Contribution - New Zealand's total country aid flow to Samoa has doubled over the last 5 years and in 2012/13 will amount to NZ$24.26m. Under the Joint Commitment for Development (JCfD) with Samoa, New Zealand will commit up to NZ$20 million over 5 years from 2011/12 for tourism development. An additional NZ$4m has been approved for tourism rebuilding after cyclone damage in December 2012. A further NZ$6m is committed for the general recovery/rebuilding programme. In health and education, New Zealand has committed up to NZ$12m and NZ$16m respectively over 5 years. In education, an additional NZ$5m over 4 years was approved above the bilateral allocation for secondary school free fees programme, and since 2011/12, we contributed NZ$1m per annum towards general budget support.

Government operating budget - SAT$774 million in 2012/13 (forecast)
Current account (net)- Surplus SAT$13.3 million
Inflation - 2.1% (forecast 2011/12)   
Gross external debt - SAT$919 million; 59% of GDP


New Zealand Trade

NZ Exports (FOB) - NZ$107 million
Main Exports - Motor vehicles; construction materials and machinery; sheep meat; dairy products

NZ Imports
(CIF) - NZ$2.57 million
Main Imports - Prepared unrecorded media (phone cards); prepared foods (coconut cream); scrap metal; other coconut products (copra, drinking nuts); non-wheat flour

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Migrants from Southeast Asia and Melanesia are believed to have arrived in the Samoan islands over 2,000 years ago and from there settled the rest of Polynesia further to the east.  Samoa’s pre-European history was interwoven with chiefdoms of Fiji and the kingdom of Tonga, with archaeological records supporting indigenous genealogies and oral tradition telling of interisland voyaging and intermarriage.

The first major European settlements occurred in the 1830s for missionary work and trade, and in 1899 Samoa became a German colony.  New Zealand assumed control of Samoa following the outbreak of World War One and the islands became a mandated territory of New Zealand under the auspices of the League of Nations.  Between the Wars there was considerable agitation for the removal of foreign control over Samoan affairs.  After World War Two, Samoa was administered by New Zealand as a United Nations trust territory and measures were gradually introduced to prepare for self-government.  In 1962 Samoa became the first Pacific Island country to gain independence.  With effect from 4 July 1997, a constitutional amendment changed the name of the country from Western Samoa to the Independent State of Samoa (or Samoa).

Political situation

The government is a parliamentary democracy with a parliamentary term of five years.  The Prime Minister, who is chosen by Parliament and appointed by the Head of State, leads a Cabinet of twelve members.  The governing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) is dominant in Samoan politics.  It came to office in 1982, led then by the late Hon Tofilau Eti Alesana.  The HRPP was    re-elected in 1988, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, and most recently in March 2011, when it was returned to power.  It currently holds 37 of the 49 parliamentary seats.  Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi has been Prime Minister since November 1998, when Tofilau resigned due to failing health. 

Tofilau’s period in office was associated with significant constitutional reform.  Universal suffrage was introduced with the 1991 elections.  Before that, all but two of the seats could be voted for solely by matai (chiefs).  The two remaining members were elected on the basis of universal suffrage by citizens with no village affiliation.  Apart from the two “Individual Voters” seats, candidates for election to Parliament must still hold matai titles, and the exception for the “Individual Voters” seats is to be removed, commencing with the 2011 elections.  PM Tuilaepa continued public service reforms, which involved merging some ministries and creating the Planning and Urban Management Agency (PUMA).

The Tautua Samoa Party (TSP) is the formal opposition party in Parliament. In April 2008, two HRPP members resigned to become independents. They banded together with other independents to form a new political party, the TSP.  A court ruling in mid-2009 reinstated nine MPs who had been thrown out of Parliament by the Speaker for joining a new political party (on the grounds that the party in question had not been registered under the Electoral Act). The government introduced amendments to the Electoral Act, requiring the Speaker to declare vacant any Parliamentary seat occupied by a member who had formed an allegiance with a new party during a (five-year) parliamentary term, regardless of whether that party was registered under the Electoral Act.  The provisions took effect in March 2010.

The TSP won 13 seats in the 2011 general election, but leader Va’ai Papu Vailupe subsequently lost his seat after an election petition hearing ruled him guilty of bribery and treating.  The HRPP regained Va’ai’s seat in the subsequent by-election in July 2011.

In July 2012, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi was re-appointed Head of State for a further five-year term. 

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Economic situation

Samoa is a small, fairly liberalised economy, with a GDP of around NZ$815million (to the end of 2012).  It is reliant on foreign imports and has a large trade deficit.  The economy is largely driven by tourism (20-25% of GDP), remittances (25% of GDP), and foreign aid.  Samoa is one of the highest recipients of remittances in the world as a proportion of GDP.  This is a          by-product of large expatriate Samoan communities in New Zealand, American Samoa, the United States and Australia, who retain strong links with their relatives back in Samoa.  Fisheries, construction and, to a lesser extent, agriculture and small-scale manufacturing also contribute to GDP.  Samoa’s exports consist mainly of fish, coconut products, beer, automotive parts (as    re-exports from the Yazaki wire harness factory), nonu fruit products and taro.  The increasing cost of fuel has also created challenges. 

Samoa’s economy remains highly vulnerable to fiscal shocks and natural disasters.  For example, cyclones in 1990 and 1991, combined with taro blight, caused severe economic setbacks.  The devastating tsunami which struck Samoa on 29 September 2009 killed 143 people (including several New Zealand tourists) and wiped out large stretches of the south and        south-east coasts on the main island of Upolu.  Tourism was particularly badly hit by the tsunami, which damaged or destroyed around 25% of Samoa’s tourist accommodation stock, including several high-end resorts in one of the most scenic parts of the country. 

The economic damage caused by Cyclone Evan is significantly greater than that caused by the 2009 tsunami and has been felt more widely.  The Samoan Government/World Bank Post Disaster Needs Assessment estimates the total damage and loss caused by the event to be ST479.8m ($NZ250m), equivalent to nearly 30% of Samoa’s GDP.  Costs are spread roughly equally between the public and private sector.  Transport, agriculture, environment, electricity, tourism and housing are the sectors most affected.   

Only around 12% of Samoa’s total population is engaged in formal paid employment.  Two-thirds of the potential labour force is absorbed by subsistence village agriculture, a dominant sector in the Samoan economy.  Private sector growth is constrained by a narrow resource base, limited infrastructure, isolation, dependence on fuel imports, lack of skilled labour and a small domestic market.

Employment has been affected by a downturn in the manufacturing sector and a reduction of the operations of Samoa’s single largest private employer, Yazaki (a Japanese firm which produces wire harnesses for motor vehicles for export to Australia).  Yazaki employs around 1,000 people, down from a high of 2000, due to reduced orders from Australia and the impact of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  Unemployment figures were exacerbated by the down-sizing of the canning industry in American Samoa. 

The current framework for economic and social development is the Strategy for the Development of Samoa (SDS) 2012-2016.  The SDS identifies fourteen key development priorities within the economic sector, social policies, infrastructure sector and the environment. These priorities include promoting sustained macroeconomic stability, enabling tourism and business development, health, education and improved access to essential social services, sustainability for key infrastructure such as water, sanitation and transport, and the implementation of environmental protections.

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Foreign relations

Samoa is an active member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), which is based in Samoa.  Pacific regional offices for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are located in Apia.  Samoa is a member of the Commonwealth and the World Trade Organisation.

Samoa’s membership of other international organisations includes the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Group of 77 (G-77), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Criminal Court (ICC), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (Sparteca), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), World Bank (WB), and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). 

Relations with New Zealand

The special relationship between New Zealand and Samoa is underpinned by the 1962 Treaty of Friendship, concluded when Samoa became independent after a period of New Zealand trusteeship from 1919 to 1962.  In 2012 New Zealand and Samoa marked the 50th Anniversary of Samoa’s independence from New Zealand and the signing of the Treaty of Friendship. These events were celebrated with a number of events and high level visits between New Zealand and Samoa, which indicates the warm relationship that exists between the two countries. The relationship is rich and multi-stranded, with close links between New Zealand and Samoa underpinned by the large number of New Zealanders of Samoan descent or origin living in New Zealand.  An estimated 131,100 Samoans now live in New Zealand, making up around 50% of this country’s Pacific Island population (2006 census).  The arts and culture of Samoan New Zealanders have become a distinctive voice and contributor to New Zealand society.  Some thirty New Zealand government agencies have active links with Samoa.

Samoa is New Zealand’s 42nd largest export market and 92nd import.  These statistics reflect the fact that New Zealand is not a major destination for Samoa’s products, but is Samoa’s main source of imports.  Samoa has a constant trade imbalance with all countries, offset by remittances and tourism.  Tourism is Samoa’s largest export, with New Zealand forming 43% of its tourist market.  The launch of the Auckland-based New Zealand Samoa Trade and Investment Commission in 2011 reflects the Samoan Government’s determination to expand and diversify its exports to New Zealand.

The Samoan Government and people responded swiftly and generously in the wake of the September 2010 Canterbury Earthquake, the October 2010 Pike River Mine disaster and the devastating February 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. This underscored the solidarity and reciprocal support between the two countries in times of trouble, as well as the close emotional ties.

2009 Tsunami

The strength and quality of New Zealand’s relationship with Samoa was epitomised by the tremendous response by the New Zealand Government and people to the deadly tsunami that struck Samoa on 29 September 2009. On learning of the tsunami the New Zealand Government pledged NZ$2m to the immediate disaster relief effort, as well as mobilising emergency personnel, substantial quantities of relief supplies and facilitating the transportation of supplies provided by international aid agencies. 

Many thousands of New Zealanders donated money and goods to various relief efforts, and have subsequently volunteered their time and skills in the rebuilding of fales and community buildings lost in the tsunami.

Cyclone Evan (2012)

Cyclone Evan was a category 3 cyclone that hit Samoa on 13 December, bringing with it winds of up to 160km/h and in some places over 450mm of rainfall in 24 hours. Evan is regarded as the worst cyclone to hit Samoa in over 20 years.  Four people are confirmed dead and eleven remain missing.  Most of the missing were fishermen lost at sea, with a number of others drowned in flooding around Apia when the Vaisagano river burst its banks causing what has been described as an “inland Tsunami”.  The south and south west coast of Upolu were the worst hit, with eastern Apia also sustaining significant damage. 

New Zealand spent $NZ2.6m in support of the relief and recovery effort focussed on humanitarian supplies and personnel; restoration of power and water; education; and health.  There have been a range of New Zealand technical advisors deployed to assist Samoa, including civil engineers, hydro engineers, disaster management experts, environmental health specialists and plumbers.

New Zealand has committed NZ$4m for tourism rebuilding and a further NZ$6m for the general recovery and rebuilding programme following Cyclone Evan.

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Air services

New Zealand-Samoa air services are governed by the Multilateral Agreement on the Liberalisation of International Air Transportation (MALIAT), of which Samoa became the first non-APEC member in November 2002. 

In 2005 Polynesian Blue (a joint venture between Pacific Blue and the international arm of the Samoan government-owned Polynesian Airlines) was formed. To date, the venture has adjusted well to the new competitive environment.  Samoa’s decision to enter the joint venture arrangement for international air services was a bold decision to reform its national carrier in the interests of growing inbound tourism and avoiding future calls on the public purse.  Some of the gains in the tourism sector can reasonably be attributed to the joint venture airline


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Although agriculture remains an important subsistence activity in Samoa, particularly in the villages, it contributes only minimally to foreign exchange receipts.  Coconut products, cocoa, kava, taro and nonu are exported.  The largest commodity export earners, are coconut oil and fish. (exports from the Yazaki Factory being classed as re-exports and not included on the official statistics). The appointment of a dedicated Pacific plant products advisor in MAF Biosecurity is proving effective in assisting Pacific island countries to meet New Zealand’s phytosanitary requirements.  

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Samoa has no standing army.  Responsibility for security rests with the Samoan Police.  New Zealand’s relationship with Samoa in this area remains close.  Visits by Royal New Zealand Air Force and Royal New Zealand Navy assets are common. 

Through NZDF’s Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP), New Zealand has provided training for the Samoan Police, including in preparation for deployments of Samoan civilian police officers to the United Nations in East Timor.  The last MAP talks were held in March 2013.  Other defence cooperation includes maritime surveillance flights by RNZAF aircraft over Samoa’s EEZ (sometimes with Samoan officials on board). 

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Samoa’s education system comprises an eight-year primary and five-year secondary programme.  Education is not compulsory for children over 14.  Literacy rates are high compared to other developing countries, and figures show a 65% participation rate for 15 to 19 year olds at secondary school.     Pre-school education is informal, largely organised at the village level.  Samoa Polytechnic and the National University of Samoa offer tertiary studies, and the University of the South Pacific’s School of Agriculture is also located in Apia. 

New Zealand provides substantial assistance to support basic education in Samoa and scholarships for tertiary study in New Zealand (45) and the region (8).  Vocational and workforce training is also supported through the Short-Term Training Awards (for study in New Zealand) and the Samoa In-Country Training Programme.  In 2010, New Zealand and Australia jointly funded a major new initiative providing school fee grants to state, mission, and special education schools that removed the need for families to pay school fees.  The scheme evolved as a response to the economic pressure on families from the Global Economic Crisis but has been taken on as a long term policy by the Samoan Government, and aims also to strengthen education standards in schools. Funding for this initiative has been extended for a further year.

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The New Zealand Police and Samoa Police and Prison Service have shared a long and close association. There is active cooperation between the two services in both the bilateral and regional contexts. A revised and updated co-operative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the two Police Commissioners in Wellington on 2 August 2010. One of the outcomes of the MOU is to develop a joint plan of action for collaborative activities between the two services over a twelve to twenty-four month period. New Zealand Police currently supports Samoa's Domestic Violence Unit and have provided training in prosecutions and maintaining public order and Samoa's canine unit. In September 2009 a New Zealand Police Liaison Officer position was established within the New Zealand High Commission in Apia with responsibility for the south and south-west Pacific.

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Immigration is an important element of the bilateral relationship.  Under the 1982 Protocol to the Treaty of Friendship, New Zealand has a specific obligation to consult Samoa on immigration (and citizenship) matters affecting Samoa.  A special immigration quota introduced in 1970 by the New Zealand Government annually permits up to 1,100 Samoans to be granted New Zealand permanent residence, in addition to those entering New Zealand under normal immigration arrangements.

Samoa was one of the first five Pacific Island countries to receive facilitated support for participation in the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.  The RSE allows workers to come to New Zealand for up to seven months to work in the horticulture and viticulture sectors.  All Forum Island countries, apart from Fiji, are eligible under the scheme, but New Zealand has worked intensively with five to help kick-start the policy.  In the 12 months to 30 June 2012, 1,162 Samoans had been to New Zealand under the RSE scheme.

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Aid programme

Samoa’s development progress is reflected in GDP growth and increasing average incomes over the last twenty years, and progress in indicators such as primary school enrolment and child mortality. Samoa ranks first in the region for government effectiveness and has strong leadership of development priorities through its Samoa Development Strategy. Challenges include aid reliance and lack of employment opportunities, variable quality of government services, and looming issues of non-communicable diseases and evidence of stalled progress in education e.g. literacy.

Samoa was impacted by the global economic crisis, the 2009 Pacific tsunami and Cyclone Evan in 2012. After a decade of steady economic growth, these factors led to two years of economic contraction which affected livelihoods and public finances. Samoa has increased its reliance on donor grants and concessionary loans to bridge the resulting budget deficit, maintain services and help finance the large tsunami recovery programme. While the economy is now slowly recovering, an increasing proportion of the population lives below the basic needs poverty line, up to 30% in some areas. Inequality has increased.

With development assistance constituting 15% of GDP, a number of donors are active in Samoa, including Australia, EU, China and New Zealand.  The multi-donor environment is well coordinated by the Samoan Aid Coordination Unit in the Ministry of Finance. This has led to a number of multi-donor, multi-year sector wide programmes (SWAPs) of which New Zealand is committed to support Health and Education. 

New Zealand and Samoa recently agreed a new Joint Commitment for Development reflecting an increased focus on sustainable economic development, including through tourism, private sector enabling environment, infrastructure, agriculture and energy. It also seeks to respond to Samoa’s request for budget support, possibly for education, in return for better results.

New Zealand’s major activities for 2012/13 were:


Tourism, although highly vulnerable to natural disasters, has developed into Samoa's top foreign exchange earner (excluding remittances) – and not without justification. Samoa's natural advantages of sun, scenery, and culture have drawn unprecedented numbers of tourists making the most of cheaper flights offered by both Polynesian Blue and Air New Zealand, with New Zealanders comprising around 40% of all tourist arrivals.

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There are regular Ministerial visits in both directions.

Visits to Samoa

Visits to New Zealand




Travel advice

The Safe Travel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Samoa [external link].

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Page last updated: Monday, 09 December 2013 13:00 NZDT