The partnership between the U.S. and Tonga is broad and deep, based on shared values and close cooperation on matters ranging from combating climate change and human trafficking to improving maritime security and fostering cooperation and development in the region. The U.S. Peace Corps is active in Tonga and in 2017 celebrated its 50th anniversary in the country. Tonga was a protected state of the United Kingdom until 1970. It is the South Pacific's last Polynesian kingdom, a constitutional hereditary monarchy. The U.S. has commended Tonga for its move toward fuller democracy through the 2010 election of its first popular majority parliament and subsequent elections in 2014 and 2017, with international observers deemed free and fair, as well as its ongoing development of an active and vibrant civil society.
U.S. Assistance to Tonga
In February 2018, USAID provided a $100,000 grant to the Red Cross to respond to cyclone Gita, a category-five storm that caused significant damage to the main island of Tongatapu. USAID funds regional projects assisting communities in accessing financing, building institutional capacity, and adapting to climate change. The Ready project (2016-2021) supports climate finance and management capacity. The U.S. is also a major financial contributor to international and regional organizations that assist Tonga, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, UN Children's Fund, World Health Organization, and UN Fund for Population Activities. Tonga receives Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to equip its military and participates in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which sends Tongan officers and senior enlisted personnel to professional military education and leadership development courses in the U.S. The Nevada National Guard has a State Partnership Program with Tonga, with whom it regularly conducts joint training. The U.S. also has a ship-rider agreement with Tonga to provide security and support ship-rider missions which allow Tongan law enforcement officials to ride aboard U.S. Coast Guard vessels. The U.S. also contributes U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy air assets to regional Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) operations that help Tuvalu protect earnings from fishing licenses in the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Additionally, Tonga is a regular participant in U.S. Pacific Command sponsored workshops on topics including humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, maritime security, peacekeeping, and international humanitarian law.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Tonga's economy is characterized by a large non-monetary sector and a heavy dependence on remittances from the more than half of the country's population that lives abroad, chiefly in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. A large number of Tongans reside in the U.S., particularly in Utah, California, and Hawaii. The U.S. enjoys a trade surplus with Tonga in two-way annual trade of approximately $11 million. Tonga is a party to the U.S.-Pacific Islands Multilateral Tuna Fisheries Treaty, which provides access to U.S. fishing vessels in exchange for a license fee paid by U.S. industry. Under a separate Economic Assistance Agreement associated with the Treaty, the U.S. government currently provides $21 million per year to Pacific Island parties.