U.S. Relations With Tonga

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
July 17, 2018


More information about Tonga is available on the Tonga Country Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-TONGA RELATIONS

The partnership between the United States 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 United States 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.

Tonga has contributed significantly to international peace and security. During 2004-2008, Tonga deployed four contingents of soldiers to Iraq for durations of 6 months. In 2010, Tonga deployed the first contingent of 55 soldiers to Afghanistan in support of the British Armed Forces' efforts in the International Security Assistance Force. Tonga deployed 330 soldiers to support U.K. forces in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014. U.S. and Tongan military forces hold annual joint training exercises, and the Nevada National Guard entered into a State Partnership Program with Tonga in 2014.

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 United States 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 United States. The Nevada National Guard has a State Partnership Program with Tonga, with whom it regularly conducts joint training. The United States 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 United States 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 United States. A large number of Tongans reside in the United States, particularly in Utah, California, and Hawaii. The United States 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 United States government currently provides $21 million per year to Pacific Island parties.

Tonga's Membership in International Organizations

Tonga and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Trade Organization, the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Regional Environmental Programme. Tonga also belongs to the Pacific Islands Forum, of which the United States is a Dialogue Partner.

Public Diplomacy

The Embassy maintains an American Corner in Tonga, which serves as a permanent platform for the public outreach. Recently, the Public Affairs Section conducted a number of media and speaker programs in Tonga. In 2016 the United States, through the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) awarded $90,000 for the Phase 2 of the preservation of the Tongan historical landmark, the 12th-Century Royal Tombs. Phase 1 of the project completed in 2012 was also supported through the AFCP and resulted in the conservation of three multi-level tombs.

Bilateral Representation

The current position of U.S. Ambassador to Tonga is vacant, resident in Fiji; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

Tonga has no embassy in Washington, DC, but has a permanent representative to the United Nations in New York who is also accredited as ambassador to the United States. Tonga maintains a Consulate-General in San Francisco, California.

More information about Tonga is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here

Department of State Tonga Country Page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Tonga Page
U.S. Embassy
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Investment Climate Statements
U.S. Census Bureau Foreign Trade Statistics
Travel Information