The United Nations (UN) classifies Samoa as one of the world’s least developed nations. It is dependent on agriculture and fishing, which is mainly at a subsistence level, although some products are exported or sold in local markets. Overfishing has led to a drop in fish harvests, and the use of illegal poisons by some fishers is having devastating effects on marine life. Crop damage from cyclones and disease has also had disastrous effects, but attempts to diversify the economy are expected to lessen the country’s reliance on subsistence agriculture. Underemployment is high and remittances from Samoans living abroad, mainly in New Zealand, remain important but are declining.
The principal agricultural export products are coconuts and cocoa. In 1993 a fungal disease struck the taro crop that had been the country’s primary food export. Production dropped 97 percent, causing shortages at home and reducing exports. The government instituted an emergency pesticide program to contain the disease, but the fungus continued to be a problem. Pigs and chickens are raised, but fish are more important for local consumption. Lumbering and light industries are expanding, including the opening in 1991 of a garment factory owned by a United States company. Also in 1991, a Japanese company opened an automobile component plant and it is now the largest export industry and private-sector employer. Energy is derived from imported diesel fuel and a hydroelectric facility located at Sauniautu. Tourism is a developing and important industry and in 2000 Samoa had 88,000 visitors, primarily from New Zealand and American Samoa.
Samoa has a chronic trade deficit. New Zealand and Australia are the country’s main trading partners and they are also the chief sources of financial aid. The unit of currency is the tala which is divided into 100 sene (3.29 talas equal U.S.$1; 2000 average). In 1994 budget figures showed $95.3 million in revenues and $76.7 million in expenditures. The gross domestic product, which measures the total value of all goods and services produced in the country, was $235.8 million in 2000.
The road system of Samoa extends for 790 km (491 mi). Apia is the principal port; other ports are at Asau, Mulifanua, and Salelologa. Faleolo Aerodrome, located about 30 km (about 20 mi) from Apia, is the international airport. The national airline, Polynesian Airlines, operates at a loss and is a drain on the economy. Daily barges shuttle between Upolu and Savai‘i and both islands also have a domestic airfield.
Radio broadcasting, operated by the government, is the primary means of communication within the country. In 1993 the government also began operating two television stations, although reception is mainly limited to Upolu. Samoa also receives television stations from American Samoa. There are several independent newspapers.