French Polynesia, Economy
Traditional subsistence agriculture—formerly the mainstay of French Polynesia’s economy—was displaced in the mid-1960s by the growth of two very different industries: tourism and nuclear testing. Both of these industries provided new opportunities for high-wage employment in and around Papeete, and many people from the remote islands abandoned subsistence activities and moved to Tahiti. Since then, the economy has become more focused on consumer goods and more concentrated in urban areas. The cultivation of cultured black pearls is another growing industry. Production of these pearls more than doubled between 1990 and 1995, and in the mid-1990s French Polynesia was producing more than 95 percent of the world’s supply. The economy of French Polynesia is also heavily dependent on economic aid from France.
In 2000 French Polynesia had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $3.9 billion, or $16,720 per person. The service sectors provided 78 percent of GDP in 1997, with tourism alone accounting for about 20 percent of the total GDP. Industry supplied about 18 percent of GDP, and agriculture supplied 4.7 percent. Of the workforce in 1997, 68 percent were employed in services, 19 percent in industry, and 13 percent in agricultural activities.
Thermal power provides 51 percent of French Polynesia’s electricity, and hydroelectric power supplies most of the remainder.
Papeete has an international airport, and several international airlines serve the city. The outer island groups have small air terminals. A number of shipping lines connect Papeete with Europe and Asia, as well as with other Pacific Islands. There are paved roads on Tahiti and many of the other Society Islands, and many people in these areas own motor vehicles. Papeete is well served by small local buses, and traffic congestion is common.
The French Polynesian government operates most radio and television stations in French Polynesia. Several other radio stations are privately owned. Print media in the territory include 4 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 24,000 copies.
The value of imports in French Polynesia is typically several times the value of exports. Most of the territory’s food is imported. Aside from food products, major imports include petroleum products and machinery. Cultured black pearls are French Polynesia’s leading export, accounting for more than 50 percent of export revenues. Other exported products include coconuts, mother-of-pearl, and vanilla. French Polynesia’s principal trade partner for both imports and exports is France, followed by the United States and Australia. The territory’s unit of currency is the CFP franc (129.44 CFP francs equal U.S.$1; 2000 annual average).