U.S. Department of State Background Note

Samoa

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Samoa

GEOGRAPHY AND PEOPLE

Samoa consists of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai'i and seven small islets located about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the South Pacific. The main island of Upolu is home to nearly three-quarters of Samoa's population and its capital city of Apia. The climate is tropical, with a rainy season from November to April.

The Fa'a Samoa, or traditional Samoan way, remains a strong force in Samoan life and politics. Despite centuries of European influence, Samoa maintains its historical customs, social systems, and language, which is believed to be the oldest form of Polynesian speech still in existence. Only the Maoris of New Zealand outnumber the Samoans among Polynesian groups.

HISTORY

The 1960 Constitution, which formally came into force with independence, is based on the British Westminster parliamentary system, modified to take account of Samoan customs. Malietoa Tanumafili held the post of head of state for 45 years until his death in May 2007. His successor, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, was selected by the Fono for a 5-year term.

The unicameral legislature (Fono) contains 49 members serving 5-year terms. Forty-seven are elected from territorial districts by ethnic Samoans districts; the other two are chosen by non-Samoans on separate electoral rolls. Universal suffrage was extended in 1990, but only chiefs (matai) may stand for election to the Samoan seats. The voting age is 21 years and over. There are more than 30,000 matais in the country, about 8% of whom are women. The prime minister is chosen by a majority in the Fono and is appointed by the head of state to form a government. The 12 cabinet ministers are appointed by the head of state on the advice of the prime minister, and subject to the continuing confidence of the Fono.

The judicial system is based on English common law and local customs. The Supreme Court is the court of highest jurisdiction. Its chief justice is appointed by the head of state upon the recommendation of the prime minister.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--His Highness TUI ATUA Tupua Tamasese Efi (since June 20, 2007)
Head of Government--Prime Minister TUILA'EPA Lupesoliai Aiono Sailele Malielegoai
Ambassador to the United States--Ali'ioaga Feturi ELISAIA

Samoa maintains its diplomatic representation in the United States at 800 2nd Avenue, Suite 400D, New York, NY 10017; tel: 212-599-6196.

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) has held majority in the Fono for the past six consecutive 5-year terms. HRPP leader Tofilau Eti Alesana served as prime minister for nearly all of the period between 1982 and 1998, when he resigned due to health problems. Tofilau Eti Alesana was replaced by his deputy Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Parliamentary elections are held every 5 years, and the last was held in March 2006. The Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), led by Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, won 35 of the 49 seats. After the elections, the Samoa Democratic United Party (SDUP) was the opposition party but since then has suffered defections and divisions that have reduced it below the eight members required by parliamentary orders to constitute an official parliamentary party. Its remaining adherents have thus officially become independents, and as of October 2007 there was no recognized opposition party. The Supreme Court ordered by-elections, due to bribery and death of a member of parliament and that saw HRPP gain two extra seats to 37 of the 49 seats. Apart from HRPP and SDUP, there are several political parties but they are not represented in parliament.

ECONOMY

The Samoan Government is generally conservative and pro-Western, with a strong interest in regional political and economic issues. At independence in 1962, Samoa signed a Treaty of Friendship with New Zealand. This treaty confirms the special relationship between the two countries and provides a framework for their interaction. Under the terms of the treaty, Samoa can request that New Zealand act as a channel of communication to governments and international organizations outside the immediate area of the Pacific islands. Samoa also can request defense assistance, which New Zealand is required to consider (Samoa does not maintain a formal military). Overall Samoa has strong links with New Zealand, where many Samoans now live and many others were educated.

The Samoan Government was an outspoken critic of the French decision to resume nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific in 1995. Large-scale street demonstrations were held in Apia against the French tests, which concluded in 1996. The Samoan Government also banned visits to Samoa by French warships and aircraft for several years. This ban has now been lifted, and a French warship visited Apia in July 2006.

The Government of Samoa has a strong relationship with the Government of the People's Republic of China (P.R.C). The P.R.C. has provided substantial assistance to Samoa, including an economic grant agreement for new development projects valued at $2.6 million concluded in April 2007. Assistance from the P.R.C. has been especially focused on construction projects, including the main government building as well as performance venues for the South Pacific Games, which Samoa hosted in August/September 2007. The P.R.C started construction in September 2007 of two complexes for the Samoan parliament and Justice Department, with another multi-million dollar ministry building in the pipeline.

Since 1967, the United States has supported a substantial Peace Corps program in Samoa. Over 1,700 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Samoa over that time, with 51 Volunteers currently in-country. Peace Corps programs emphasize village-based development and capacity building. Other forms of U.S. assistance to Samoa are limited. The U.S. Embassy, staffed by a single officer, is the smallest Embassy in Samoa and one of the few one-officer U.S. Embassies in the world.

Samoa participated in a first round of negotiations with its Pacific Island neighbors for a regional trade agreement in August 2000. Samoa is a member of the United Nations and strong advocate of the Pacific Commission and Pacific Islands Forum.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador (accredited to both New Zealand and Samoa; resident in Wellington)-- William P. McCormick
Charge d'Affaires--George W. Colvin Jr.

The U.S. Embassy is located on the 5th Floor of the Accident Compensation Board (ACB) Building, Beach Road, Apia. Its mailing address is P.O. Box 3430, Apia. Phone: [685] 21631. Email: usembassy@samoa.net.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: Oct. 2007

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