The Independent State of Samoa is a peaceful parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations. It has a population of approximately 220,000 and a nominal GDP of USD 799 million. Samoa became the 155th member of the WTO in May 2012. Samoa is experiencing a deep recession due in large part to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, the World Bank downgraded Samoa’s classification to “lower-middle income” from its previous status as an “upper-middle income” country.
Samoa is one of the most politically and economically stable democratic island countries in the Pacific, featuring a history of strong sociocultural structures and values. Following a months-long peaceful political impasse, Samoa experienced its first political transition in almost 40 years in 2021 and Fiame Naomi Mata’afa became Samoa’s first-ever female prime minister. Samoa has a free press, independent judiciary, and the government has a strong record in protecting human rights.
Samoa is located south of the equator, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand in the Polynesian region of the Pacific Ocean. Samoa’s total land area is 1,097 square miles, consisting of the two main islands of Upolu and Savai’i, which account for 99 percent of the total land area, and eight small islets. About 80 percent of land is customary land, owned by villages, with the remainder either freehold or government-owned. Customary land can be leased, but not sold.
In the past decade, Samoa has taken steps to align its systems more closely with nations in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia. Samoans drove on the right side of the road (like the United States) until 2009, at which time the country shifted to driving on the left side as done in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Until 2011, Samoa was located east of the international dateline in the same time zone as Hawaii but is now one of the first countries in the world to start each day.
The small island country has experienced catastrophic natural disasters, including a 2009 earthquake and tsunami that killed hundreds, and severe cyclones in 2012 and 2018. These calamities have inflicted damage equivalent to a quarter of Samoa’s GDP, representing significant setbacks to the economy.
In February 2021, the Central Bank of Samoa stated that the country’s economy was in full recession as the impact of COVID-19 global pandemic affected all sectors. From a peak in the third quarter of 2019, Samoa’s GDP has contracted by 12 percent in real terms through the end of 2021. The recession was caused by declines in tourism, business services, transport, and the communications sector. Samoa’s government understands that that its economy needs external investment and is generally welcoming of FDI.
The service sector accounts for nearly three-quarters of GDP and employs approximately 65 percent of the formally employed labor force (roughly 30 percent of the population). Pre-COVID-19, tourism was the largest single activity, though the government shut Samoa’s borders in March 2020 in response to the pandemic and had not reopened to tourism as of the end of 2021.
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Government of Samoa welcomes business and investors. Samoa’s fertile soil, English-speaking and educated workforce, and tropical climate offer advantages to focused investors, though the country’s distance from major markets affects the cost of imports and exports. Historically the main productive sectors of the economy are agriculture and tourism, and the economy depends heavily on overseas remittances.
For investors, Samoa offers a trained, productive and industrially adaptable work force that communicates well in English; competitive wage rates; free repatriation of capital and profits; well-developed, reasonably priced transport infrastructure, telecommunications, water supply, and electricity; industry incentive packages for tourism and manufacturing sectors; a stable financial environment with single-digit inflation; a balanced budget and international reserves; relatively low corporate and income taxes; and a pleasant and safe lifestyle.
All businesses in the greater Apia area have access to broadband and Wi-Fi, which is reasonably reliable and fast, but relatively expensive. In rural Upolu and on Savaii Island there is limited availability of high-speed internet, but reliable Wi-Fi through personal mobile routers is universal. In 2018, Samoa completed the installation of a National Broadband Highway which provides fiber optic data services and 4G LTE cellular data speeds to the entire country. 4G LTE data speeds are operative and commercially available nationwide.
Foreign Investors are permitted 100% ownership in all different sectors of industry except for restricted activities below.
The following businesses are reserved for Samoan Citizens only:
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor (MCIL) administers Samoa’s foreign investment policy and regulations (https://www.mcil.gov.ws/). To open a branch of an existing corporation in Samoa, one must register the company for about USD 115. For a company to qualify as a “Samoan company,” the majority of shareholders must be Samoan. The fee to register an overseas company is about USD 115. All businesses with foreign shareholdings must obtain and hold valid foreign investment registration certificates. The application fee is about USD 50 and can be obtained by contacting MCIL. Certificates are valid until the business terminates activity. If a business does not commence activity within 2 years after a certificate is issued, the certificate becomes invalid. Upon approval of the FIC, the foreign investor is then required to apply for a business license before operating in Samoa. Fees range from USD 100-USD $250, depending on the type of business.
Land has a special status in Samoa, as it does in most Pacific Island countries. Under the country’s land classification system, about 80 percent of all land is customary land, owned by villages, with the remainder either freehold (private) or government-owned. The standard method for obtaining customary land, which cannot be bought or sold, is through long-term leases that must be negotiated with the local communities. A typical lease for business use might be for 30 years, with the option of a further 30 years after that, but longer terms can be negotiated. It should be noted that customary land cannot be mortgaged, and thus cannot be used as collateral to raise capital or credit. Freehold land, mostly based in and around Apia can be bought, sold and mortgaged. Only Samoan citizens may buy freehold land unless approval is obtained from Samoa’s Head of State.
Samoa’s Ministry of Revenue only distinguishes between small/medium enterprises (less than USD 400,000 in annual turnover) and large enterprises (over USD 400,000 in annual turnover). Priority service is given to large enterprises.
There is minimal outward investment from Samoa beyond several stationery and apparel stores having branches in New Zealand and American Samoa. The government and economy are more focused on increasing exports of Samoan products. The government does not appear to restrict investment abroad.
Samoa is not party to any bilateral investment or bilateral taxation treaties.
Samoa is a Party to the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus which entered into force December 2020. PACER Plus is a regional trade, development, and economic cooperation agreement to facilitate regional trade and promote economic cooperation and partnerships; promote a stable and predictable environment to progressively remove barriers to trade; and support sustainable economic development.
Eight of the eleven PACER Plus signatories are Parties to the agreement through ratification: Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu). Samoa is establishing a PACER Plus Implementation Unit to implement the Agreement’s Development and Economic Cooperation Work Program.
In 2009, the EU, Fiji and PNG negotiated and signed an Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EU-Pacific IEPA) to secure market access for sugar and canned fish to the EU. The EPA negotiation have been suspended. In December 2018, Samoa acceded to the EU-Pacific IEPA to secure duty-free access of exports to the EU following the expiration of preferences for Samoa under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBAs) scheme for Least Developed Countries (LDC). Solomon Islands acceded to the agreement in May 2020 while Tonga has expressed interest to accede.
As part of the United Kingdom’s preparations to exit the European Union, the UK sought to develop new trade agreements to replicate, as far as possible, the provisions of existing EU trade arrangements. In 2019, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and UK negotiated and signed the UK- Pacific IEPA to maintain trade with the Pacific. The Agreement replicates the Pacific-EU IEPA through the elimination of tariffs and entered into force January 2021. Samoa’s accession will soon be formalized. As a bridging mechanism, Samoa can export duty free to the UK through a MOU.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The Government uses transparent policies and effective laws to establish “clear rules of the game.” Accounting, legal and regulatory procedures are all consistent with international norms. According to the Samoa Institute of Accountants, businesses adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Standards on Auditing and Quality Assurance.
Draft bills are made available through the parliamentary website, https://www.palemene.ws/parliament-business/bills/, but are not made available for formal public comment. Those who wish to make a comment on the bill are given the opportunity to do so before a Parliamentary Committee. Public notices are televised and printed on local newspaper for the awareness of the public that there is an avenue to voice their opinions on drafted Government policies.
The Office of the Regulator (OOTR) was established in 2006 under the Telecommunications Act 2005 to provide regulatory services for the telecommunications sector in Samoa. However, the Broadcasting and Postal Services Acts 2010 were recently approved by Parliament, which also provide regulatory framework for broadcasting and postal sectors in Samoa. These Acts require the Regulator to establish a fair, unbiased and ethical regime for implementing the objects of these Acts including licensing of telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services, promotion of new services and investment, consumer protection, prevention of anti-competitive activities by service providers, and management of the radio spectrum and national number plans. OOTR also approves the Electric Power Corporation’s Power Purchase Agreements with Independent Power Providers and reviews EPC’s Power Extension Plan.
Finances and expenditures of the government are published twice on an annual basis, and available through the parliament website. Debt obligations are published on a quarterly basis by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics through its quarterly reports.
International Regulatory Considerations
Samoa is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, which is an 18-member inter-governmental organization that aims to enhance cooperation between the independent countries of the Pacific Ocean.
Samoa’s system of government is based on the Westminster Parliamentary system. Samoa’s Companies Act 2001 contains a modern regulatory regime based on New Zealand company law.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Samoan legal system has its foundations in English and Commonwealth statutory and common law. Various business structures utilized in common law are recognized: sole traders, partnerships, limited liability companies, joint ventures and trusts (including unit trusts). These structures are regulated by legislation including the Companies Act 2001, Partnership Act 1975, Trustee Act 1975 and Unit Trusts Act 2008. Samoa’s Companies Act 2001 contains a modern regulatory regime based on New Zealand company law. It allows the incorporation of a sole person company (i.e., one person being both shareholder and director) and directors need not be resident in Samoa.
A Samoa incorporated private company is a separate legal entity and a corporation under Samoan law. It must file an annual return with the Registrar of Companies specifying details of directors, shareholders, registered office etc. There is no requirement for private companies to file annual financial reports with the Companies Registry nor are there any minimum capital requirements.
The judicial system is largely independent from the executive branch. In December 2020, the National Parliament passed into law three controversial bills that fundamentally changed country’s constitution and judicial system. The three bills, the Constitution Amendment Bill, Lands and Titles Bill, and Judicature Bill, were passed by Parliament with a vote of 41-4. The bills were opposed by the judiciary and the Samoa Law Society for lack of consultation and the impact on human rights and rule of law. The Australian and New Zealand Law Societies, and other international organizations issued statements in support of the judiciary and the law society. The new laws have in effect divided the judicial system into parallel courts of equal standing: one to deal with criminal and civil matters, and the other with customary land and titles. There are outstanding questions about the constitutionality of the new laws.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor administers Samoa’s foreign investment policy and regulations under the Foreign Investment Amendment Act 2011. All businesses with any foreign ownership require foreign investment approval by MCIL. (https://www.mcil.gov.ws/).
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor’s Fair Trading and Codex Alimentarius Division (FTCD) handles competition related concerns. The main pieces of legislation regarding competition are the Fair Trading Act 1998, the Consumer Information Act 1989, and the Measures Ordinance 1960.
Expropriation and Compensation
Samoa’s constitution prohibits expropriation without compensation, and expropriation cases in Samoa are rare. There was one significant case that occurred in 2009 over land designated for a new six-story government building. A business signed a 20-year lease with the government in 2005 but was then asked to move in 2008 to make way for the new building. The business moved but won a settlement in the Court of Appeals against the government for a much larger sum than the government initially offered the business for vacating the land.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2007 (amended 2013) outlines ADR procedures for both criminal and civil proceedings. Samoa has an Accredited Mediators of Samoa Association that was put in place to help resolve (largely commercial) disputes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Samoa has been party to the ICSID since 1978. Samoa is not party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The provisions of the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013 have full effect in relation to disputes that involve foreign investors in Samoa. Foreign investors are subject to this Act.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2007 also provides alternative dispute resolution procedures where civil or criminal cases may arise.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The provisions of the Arbitration Act 1976 have full effect in relation to disputes that involve foreign investors in Samoa. Subject to this Act and to any other law in Samoa, the Convention Settlement of Investment Disputes signed in Washington on the 3rd of February 1978 and ratified by Samoa on the 25th of April 1978, has the force of law in Samoa. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2007 also provides alternative dispute resolution procedures where civil or criminal cases may arise.
Bankruptcies are governed by the Samoa Bankruptcy Act of 1908, which gives broad rights to the judiciary to issue orders related the property of any debtor or bankrupt who becomes subject to the Act. The judiciary has the authority to decide all questions of priorities.
4. Industrial Policies
Samoa’s government is very reluctant to provide government guarantees or financing for projects. In rare circumstances, the government may provide land for certain business projects, or be instrumental in securing land of interest.
The Industry Development and Investment Promotion Division (IDIPD) under MCIL administers several schemes designed to assist businesses that produce for overseas and domestic markets, enhancing development of domestic businesses as well as property developers in the tourism industry, and also businesses in the private sector. Such schemes offer duty concessions on imported goods for the tourism and manufacturing industries and income tax exemptions for up to five years for hotel operators.
The government does not offer incentives for clean energy investments.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Samoa does not have any Free Trade Zones, Duty Free Zones, Special Economic Zones, or areas with special tax treatment.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
In order to hire a non-Samoan citizen for a job, one must prove that the required skillset is not available through the local labor force. It is not an onerous task to hire non-residents.
There is no forced localization in terms of goods or technology.
There is no forced localization of data other than the industry exceptions outlined in the Intellectual Property section below.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Leasing of Land: In accordance with the Alienation of Customary Land Act 1965 and the Alienation of Freehold Land Act 1972, land may be leased for up to 30 years renewable once in the case of land leased or licensed for industrial purposes or a hotel and 20 years renewable once in the other cases.
Land holdings and ownership in Samoa fall into three (3) categories:
Customary Land: These lands are not for sale but can be leased out to foreigners as well as locals. All leased lands in this category are registered with the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment. In case of dispute, ownership is decided by the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration.
Public Land: The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources administers the database of Government land available for lease. Applications for leasing of land should be submitted to the Chairman of the Samoa Land Board.
Freehold Land: Freehold land cannot be sold or leased to someone who is not a citizen of Samoa, except with the proper consent of the Head of State.
Intellectual Property Rights
Samoa has legislation protecting patents, utility models, designs, and trademarks. Enforcement is moderate.
To protect and safeguard intellectual property in Samoa, the Government has passed the following laws:
a) Copyrights Act 1998 – applies to work including books, pamphlets, articles, computer programs, speeches, lectures, musical works, audiovisual, works of architecture etc.
b) Intellectual Property Act 2013 – for the registration and enforcement of rights of owners of Trademarks, Patents, Industrial designs, GI, and Plant varieties.
Samoa is not on USTR’s Special 301 list or the Notorious Markets Report.
The capital market is regulated by the Central Bank of Samoa (CBS). Since January 1998, the Central Bank has implemented monetary policy by issuing its own Securities using market-based techniques – commonly known as Open Market Operations (OMO). CBS Securities are the predominant monetary policy instrument, which is issued to influence the amount of liquidity in the financial system.
Capital markets in Samoa are in their infancy with the Unit Trust of Samoa (UTOS) domestic market established in 2010, and no international stock exchange.
Samoa has accepted the obligations of IMF Article VIII, Sections 2, 3, and 4, and maintains an exchange system that is free of restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Money and Banking System
Samoa is well-served with banking and finance infrastructure. It has four commercial banks, complimented by a dynamic development bank. The sector is ably regulated by the Central Bank of Samoa. The largest banks are regional operators ANZ and BSP, which offer a wide range of services based upon electronic banking platforms. Although they service all markets, they tend to dominate the top-end, encompassing corporate, government and high net worth individuals. Samoa is still a cash-based society, however, and this has enabled two locally owned entrants, the National Bank of Samoa and Samoa Commercial Bank, to each garner double-digit market share, despite entering the market quite recently.
The banking sector appears healthy although recent reports have indicated the state-owned development bank is carrying a significant amount of bad debt, over 20% of its loan portfolio. The government also interfered with the bank’s attempts to foreclose on non-performing assets.
With its International Finance Centre (Samoa International Finance Authority – SIFA)—the first Pacific center to be white-listed by the OECD—and a well-structured financial services sector, Samoa is well placed to service the needs of both local and offshore businesses.
The Government, through the Central Bank, has been largely resistant of block chain technologies. Their skepticism is somewhat warranted with the discovery of several cryptocurrency schemes operating in the country widely believed to be scams.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
The Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) controls all foreign exchange transactions as well as matters relating to monetary stability and supply of money within the country. This includes international transactions, overseas transfer of funds and funding of imports, and registration of insurance companies. Repatriation of overseas capital and profits is normally permitted provided the original investment entered Samoa through the banking system or in an otherwise formally approved manner. Investors also have the freedom to repay principal and interest on foreign loans raised for the purpose of the investment and the freedom to pay fees to foreign parties for the use of intellectual property rights.
Repatriation of capital and profit remittances on foreign capital is permitted, although it must be approved by the CBS based on submission of necessary documents, such as the following:
a) Application letter explaining the request;
b) Audited accounts relating to the profit remittance year(s) requested;
c) A copy of the Authorized Directors’ Resolution approving the specified dividend payment; and
d) Confirmation of any associated tax payments to the Ministry of Customs and Revenue (MCR).
Sovereign Wealth Funds
There is no sovereign wealth fund or asset management bureau in Samoa. The country has the Samoa National Provident Fund which manages and invests members’ savings for their retirement.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Private enterprises are allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions. Laws and rules do not offer preferential treatment to SOEs. State-owned enterprises are subject to budget constraints, and these are enforced.
SOEs are active in the Energy, Water, Tourism, Aviation, Banking, Agriculture supplies, and Ports/Airports sectors. Laws do not provide for a leading role for SOEs or limit private enterprise activity in sectors in which SOEs operate. SOEs have government-appointed boards and operate with varying degrees of autonomy with respect to their governing Ministry.
SOEs follow a normal corporate structure with a board of directors and executive management. All SOEs have boards of directors who are appointed by a cabinet minister. Some SOEs have board seats allocated specifically to the heads of certain government ministries.
By law SOEs are required to present financials to their board of directors, shareholding Ministry and the National Auditor. Timely compliance, however, varies between SOEs.
Samoa does not have an active privatization program. The most recent major privatizations in Samoa were in broadcasting (2008) and telecommunications (2011), both resulting in significant gains in efficiency and benefits to both producer and consumer. The 2011 telecommunications privatization was to a foreign company.
Procedures for establishing all businesses are provided under existing legislation, including the Companies Amendment Act 2006, the Foreign Investment Amendment Act 2011, the Business License Act 1998, the Labour and Employment Relations Act 2013, the Central Bank Act and Guidelines, and the Health Ordinance 1959 (Part 11, 111 clause 13 & 15).
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers, and foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Firms that pursue RBC are viewed favorably but consumers generally prioritize value for money ahead of RBC claims.
The government fairly enforces domestic laws and protects human rights. The government encourages local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principals. A national contact point is not known.
Samoa’s Nationally Determined Contribution – available at https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/NDCStaging/Pages/All.aspx – provides the basis for the country’s climate strategy. Samoa’s NDC recognizes that the island nation is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to its geographic location and its economic reliance on fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. The NDC states that Samoa is already experiencing higher average temperatures, greater frequency in extreme rainfall events, sea level rise, and increases in ocean acidification and coastal erosion.
Per its NDC, Samoa aims to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent in 2030 as compared to 2007 levels. As part of its adaptation plan, Samoa aims to expand the area of mangrove forests by five percent by 2030 (relative to 2018), expand the area under agroforestry by five percent by 2030 (relative to 2018), and increase total forest cover by two percent by 2030 (relative to 2013). Samoa developed Community Integrated Management (CIM) Plans to identify prioritized adaption plans for each of Samoa’s 368 villages. Samoa’s contribution to the world’s greenhouse gases is negligible.
The government does not specify legally binding expectations on private sector contributions to achieving relevant targets and goals, but the government is very focused on climate-friendly policies and any project that depends on government support or approval would benefit from climate-friendly practices. Public procurement practices may include environmental and green growth considerations. The government does not formally offer regulatory incentives for climate-friendly policies.
With limited domestic resources, Samoa’s government is explicit that its climate goals cannot be achieved without external financing.
Samoa ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2018. It is not signatory to the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery. Corruption has not been specifically identified as an obstacle to foreign investment. Both corruption and bribery are criminalized and prosecuted, and the laws appear to be impartially applied.
The Office of the Ombudsman is charged with investigating official corruption. There are no international, non-governmental “watchdog” organizations represented locally. Samoa was not assessed by the Transparency International’s CPI report 2021 report.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating corruption:
Samoa is a peaceful parliamentary democracy with no history of politically motivated violence or civil disturbance. The risk of civil disorder is low. There is no civil strife or insurrection. There are no significant border disputes at risk of escalating into conflict. Law and order is well maintained by the Samoa Police Service with support from the village chiefs and other traditional/church authorities if required. There are no examples of politically motivated damage to projects or installations in recent years.
Samoa experienced a measles epidemic in 2019 and the government implemented strict border closures in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both severely affected local business with varying degrees of cessation of economic activity. Samoa has demonstrated that it will take extreme measures to prevent loss of life, even at the expense of massive economic losses.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The 2016 Census placed the total workforce at 57,585 people, with the unemployment rate at 3.7 percent, and 36 percent of the workforce engaged in subsistence living. Although the government does not release regular unemployment figures, only about 11 percent of the population – 23,134 people – were registered as employed in the formal sector in the quarter ended December 31, 2021.
Wages and salaries are comparatively low. Private sector minimum wage is roughly USD 1.17 an hour.
Local skilled labor is available in sufficient quantities to undertake most types of building work, except for some specialized skills and supervisory-level manpower, which is recruited locally and from abroad. To hire foreign workers, one must provide MCIL and Samoan immigration with justification that the position cannot be filled locally. This process is viewed as fair and straightforward.
Samoan First Union, the country’s only private sector union, was officially launched in 2015. It is an extension of the New Zealand-based First Union. One of their major pushes was for a WST 3 (USD 1.17) minimum wage, which was achieved in 2019.
Collective bargaining in the private sector is allowed, but not common in Samoa. The Labor and Employment Relations Act 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 2014, and the Labor and Employment Relations Regulations 2015 are the most current pieces of labor legislation, all of which meet core international standards.
Labor laws are not waived to attract new investment.
More information can be found through Samoa’s Child Labor Report
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs
DFC insurance is available to investors in Samoa, and OPIC can provide political risk insurance, finance, direct loans, and loan guarantees. There are currently no DFC-funded projects in Samoa.
The registry of insurance companies in Samoa is kept and maintained by the Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) and can be contacted for further insurance related matters.
13. Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source*
USG or international statistical source
USG or International Source of Data: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)