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Samoa, formerly known as Western 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 195 000 population.
In 1962, Samoa became the first Pacific island country to achieve independence and will celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence on 1 June 2012.
In September 2009 Samoa changed from left-hand drive to right-hand drive vehicles. On 29 December 2011, Samoa moved the international dateline east and skipped a day to align its time zone more closely with New Zealand and Australia.
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 June 2007 for a five-year term. All laws passed by the Legislative assembly require approval of the Head of State.
The NLA is elected under universal suffrage for five year terms. All 49 seats are reserved for matai, that is people who have the status of chiefs in Samoa's villages. The Samoan Government is administered by the Cabinet, which consists of the Prime Minister and 12 Ministers. Currently, all other Government MPs have been appointed as associate ministers. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi has been in office since 23 November 1998.
In elections held on 4 March 2011, the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP ), which has governed Samoa since 1982, was returned to power. The HRPP has 37 of the 49 parliamentary seats. The opposition Tautua Samoa Party has the remaining 12 seats.
Samoa has an independent judiciary, including a specific court to resolve disputes over land and traditional titles.
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. The Pacific regional office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also located in Apia as are regional offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre relocated to Apia (from Suva) in January 2008.
Samoa applied for membership of the World Trade Organization on 15 April 1998. On 15 December 2011 Samoa gained accession to the WTO and has until 15 June 2012 to ratify the package.
Samoa has supported the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), deploying a small group of police since RAMSI's inception in July 2003. It also has police deployed on peacekeeping operations in East Timor, Sudan and Liberia.
Samoa has a small and developing economy that has generally performed well in recent years. It contracted over 2009 and 2010 as a result of the global financial crisis and the September 2009 tsunami. But it grew again by about two per cent in 2011.
Remittances from Samoans working abroad are a key part of the economy. New Zealand is the main source of remittances, followed by Australia and the United States. The tourism sector has also been growing steadily over the past few years, although the tsunami caused extensive damage to several hotels and resorts. Samoa's tourism sector is now recovering. Foreign development assistance in the form of loans, grants and direct aid is an important component of the economy. Samoa is reliant on foreign imports and has a large trade deficit. Its indigenous exports consist mainly of fish and agriculture products, but their proportion of GDP has declined steadily in recent decades. A large proportion of the population is employed informally and works in subsistence agriculture or low-level commercial ventures.
Virgin Samoa (formerly Polynesian Blue), a joint venture airline between Virgin Australia, the Government of Samoa and Aggie Grey’s Resort and Hotel, commenced operations in 2005. The airline is profitable and the venture has helped to free up government funding that had in the past been used to support the state-owned Polynesian Airlines. Polynesian Airlines has now been downsized to a regional (Apia-Pago Pago) and domestic role.
Australia's relations with Samoa are strong and productive, underpinned by our aid, defence cooperation program, and Australia-Samoa Police Program as well as good people-to-people links. Australia's first representative was accredited in 1971 and a High Commission was established in Apia in 1977.
Australia is a significant development partner for Samoa and the largest grant donor, providing approximately 30 per cent of direct bilateral aid. The aid relationship between Australia and Samoa is robust, assisted by strong Samoan Government commitment to development and public sector reform and the past achievements of Australian aid.
The total aid budget for 2011-12 is estimated at $43.7 million, with $26 million programmed bilaterally and $17.7 million allocated from regional funds. In support of Samoa's development strategy, the Australian aid program contributes to improvements in: effective and accountable public sector administration; opportunities for employment and investment; enhancing law and justice; education outcomes and opportunities; health outcomes with a focus on primary and preventative health; and management of natural resources. In 2009-10, an additional $12 million was provided to help the Government of Samoa respond to the devastating September 2009 tsunami. Further information is on the AusAID website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au/) .
Australia and Samoa signed a Partnership for Development at the Pacific Islands Forum in Niue on 19 August 2008. At the Forum in Vanuatu in August 2010 Australia and Samoa signed a Partnership for Security.
In September 2011, Prime Minister Gillard announced that Samoa would be among the countries included in the expanded Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme. The scheme facilitates the recruitment of seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
Australia's Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) with Samoa centres on the Pacific Patrol Boat (PPB) program. 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 ensure follow-on support for the vessel and the development of indigenous maritime surveillance and response capabilities. The DCP also provides in-country and Australia-based training in technical and professional skills, good governance and management. As well as maritime surveillance, the PPB is also able to provide a search and rescue capability, which was significant in the aftermath of the Samoan tsunami in 2009, when the PPB acted as a mobile response unit assessing damage and managing communications.
The bilateral relationship is enhanced by regular high-level visits. The Hon Richard Marles MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, visited Samoa in October and December 2010 and most recently in December 2011. Samoa's Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, visited Australia in June 2011 and July 2008 as a Guest of Government.
Samoa and Australia enjoy strong people-to-people links. 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 and institution-to-institution links. Approximately 41 000 Australians identify themselves as of Samoan ancestry.
Samoa enjoys a balance of trade surplus with Australia. Australia is the destination for automotive wire harnesses produced by Samoa's largest private sector employer, Yazakia EDS. The harnesses are imported under a concession Australia provides Samoa under the South Pacific Region Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (SPARTECA). The current derogation expires in 2013. Australia is one of Samoa’s main sources of imports after New Zealand. Australian exports to Samoa in 2010-11 totalled $28 million. Australia's imports from Samoa in the same period totalled $38 million.
Samoa has a number of Australian investors including Westpac and ANZ, which operate commercial banks in Samoa and The Fosters Group which owns Samoa Breweries.
Australians travelling to Samoa are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice (http://smartraveller.gov.au/).
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