Finance and trade: Samoa’s first female Prime Minister on the future of investment


Samoa is one of the few countries in the world that remains COVID-19 free. Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa outlines the challenges, and trade and investment opportunities that re-opening the country could bring.

Samoa’s first female Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, finally assumed office in May this year after a challenge to the election results by the former Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Although Samoa is one of few countries that have remained COVID-19 free and is close to achieving its goal of having 95 to 100 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated by the end of November, one of Mata’afa’s challenges will be to lead the country’s re-opening and economic recovery.

While the country is largely closed to international travellers, she told the recent 2021 Business Advantage Papua New Guinea Investment Conference that ‘we are not as isolated as we could be’.

‘Because we are so fortunate to be COVID-free, what we have been able to do … is loosen some of those conditionalities, so that there is more flexibility in the country.’

Trade by air and sea continues to operate. Samoa has also resumed its participation in the Australian government’s Seasonal Workers Programme and has sent ‘quite a large number’ of workers to Australia. Discussions with New Zealand for a travel bubble have been on the table as well as for the Seasonal Workers program, but the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand might delay the negotiations.

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She says the future could also mean more cooperation between Samoa, Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Nations.

Trade opportunities

PNG has two large investments in Samoa. The first is the Taumeasina Island Resort, an investment from the Lamana Group, Petroleum Resources Gobe and the Mineral Resources Development Corporation. The resort is one of the top destinations in the Pacific and won Samoa’s National Tourism Excellence Award 2017-2018.

The second is BSP Financial Group, the leading bank of the South Pacific, which has several branches in the island. (Digicel Samoa, part of Digicel Pacific, is also the country’s largest telecommunications provider.)

The Prime Minister said that with Australian banks trying to move out of the region, this could be an area for investment and opportunity.

‘[Banks moving our of the region] would have a serious impact in the region as a whole, especially if we are looking at investments. I think if we are talking about PNG investment in the Pacific, then the financial sector could be something they could give priority to,’ said Mata’afa.


Another area of focus for the new Samoan government is trade. Mata’afa said that most trade comes currently from Fiji, but there opportunities for other nations to work together.

‘I think we have to talk amongst ourselves [the Pacific Islands]. Is there real trade capacity between us or not so much?’

Mata’afa suggested models based on collaboration and partnerships, where small islands partner to deliver a specific product, such as coconut.

The collaboration model Mata’afa mentioned has already proven fruitful. The organisation Women in Business, which produces virgin coconut oil, among other products, has worked together with other Pacific islands to guarantee supply and distribution. The organisation has secure buyers for their products, including the international cosmetics company The Body Shop.

‘This kind of example is something governments could look at … it does work,’ said Mata’afa.

Tourism opportunities

While Samoa’s tourism industry is not as developed yet as it is in other Pacific countries, such as Fiji, there is opportunity ‘to for us to build a more stronger policy base,’ said the Prime Minister.

She said that developing the tourism sector is ‘one of the things we seriously want to look into; especially now.’

‘There is always opportunity here for tourism, but with COVID the industry is in a difficult space that remains once we return to more open skies and borders.’

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