Economy of Tuvalu
Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. The economy of Tuvalu is constrained by its remoteness and lack of economies of scale. Government revenues largely come from the lease of its highly fortuitous .tv Top Level Domain (TLD); sales of stamps and coins; fishing licenses (primarily paid under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty); direct grants from international donors (government donors as well as from the Asian Development Bank); and income from the Tuvalu Trust Fund (established in 1987 by the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand).
The Tuvalu Trust Fund was established for the intended purpose of helping to supplement national deficits, underpin economic development, and help the nation achieve greater financial autonomy. The Trust Fund, has contributed roughly (A$79 million) 15% of the annual government budget each year since 1990. With a capital value of about 2.5 times GDP, the Trust Fund provides an important cushion for Tuvalu's volatile income sources from fishing and royalties from the sale of the .tv domain.
World Bank Statistics outline that in 2010 Tuvalu produced a bottom-tier ranking Gross Domestic Product of $31,350,804 and Gross National Income of $4,760. In terms of GNI the nation compares, adequately with other pacific SIDS states such as Kiribati ($2,010) and the Marshall Islands ($3,640). Fishing licensing agreements with Taiwan, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and the United States generating an income of A$9 million in 2009. However a large proportion of national income is obtained through the employment of 15% of adult male Tuvaluans, overseas in the maritime industry. The value of these remittances was valued at A$4 million (est. 2006) and on average accounts for 10% of GDP. A UN Report makes reference to the fact that these revenue streams are vulnerable to macroeconomic change while the national budget remains heavily subsidised through international aid and funding schemes such as the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) with a strong reliance on the importation of food (imports $15.5 million 2007 est).
On 5 August 2012, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with Tuvalu, and assessed the economy of Tuvalu: “A slow recovery is underway in Tuvalu, but there are important risks. GDP grew in 2011 for the first time since the global financial crisis, led by the private retail sector and education spending. We expect growth to rise slowly”.
- 1 Natural resources
- 2 Island economy
- 3 Public sector enterprises
- 4 Private sector enterprises
- 5 Development of economic and social policy
- 6 The Tuvalu Trust Fund
- 7 Falekaupule Trust Fund
- 8 Government revenue
- 9 Least developed country (LDC) status
- 10 International aid
- 11 GDP and other economic performance indicators
- 12 References
Agriculture in Tuvalu is focused on coconut trees and growing pulaka in large pits of composted soil below the water table. Subsistence farming of coconut palms to produce copra and fishing remain the primary economic activities, particularly off the capital island of Funafuti. There is no apparent large income disparity among the residents, although virtually the only jobs in the islands that pay a steady wage or salary are with the government, which make up about two thirds of those in formal employment. About 15% of adult males work as seamen on foreign flagged merchant ships. Population growth on the outer islands, the limits as to available land and the lack of employment opportunities, results in a flow of people from the outer islands to the capital in Funafuti with further pressure to migrate to Australia or New Zealand. There is high youth unemployment and few new jobs being created. Given the absence of natural resources (apart from tuna in the territorial waters), and the constrains imposed on the Tuvaluan economy by its remoteness and lack of economies of scale, practical policies are needed for improvements to the livelihoods of the growing numbers of young Tuvaluans who aspire to a more affluent lifestyle than older generations.
Tuvalu comprises four reef islands and five true atolls that result in a contiguous zone: 24 nmi (44 km) exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370 km) territorial sea: 12 nmi (22 km) Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa and Fiji. Tuvalu has worked with Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the European Union and enacted the Seabed Minerals Act 2014. The SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project involves cooperation between the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga and Tuvalu with the object of those countries making informed decisions about future deep seabed mineral activities.
The population at the 2012 census was 10,837 (2012 Population & Housing Census Preliminary Analytical Report) makes Tuvalu the third-least populous sovereign state in the world; as compared to its immediate neighbours, it has a larger population than Nauru, but is smaller than Kiribati which has a permanent population of just over 100,000 (2011). In terms of physical land size, at just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world; as compared to its immediate neighbours, Tuvalu is larger than Nauru, which is 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi), and smaller than Kiribati, which comprises groups of atolls dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres, (1,351,000 square miles) of the Pacific Ocean. Tuvalu’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers an oceanic area of approximately 900,000 km2.
Tuvalu is considered a safe country of unspoiled natural beauty and friendly people. However, due to its remoteness, the cost of travelling to the island and limited air traffic to the country, limited numbers of tourists visit each year. The majority of visitors to Tuvalu are government officials, aid workers, NGO officials or consultants.
Tuvaluans are primarily involved in traditional agriculture and fishing. About 500 Tuvalu men are employed abroad at any given time as sailors, primarily on German-owned ships. Another 300 sailors are in Tuvalu on leave between rigorous, 12-plus-month cruises. Remittances from seafarers is a major source of income for families in the country. In 2002, the Asian Development Bank approved an assistance package to upgrade the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute (TMTI) which trains young Tuvaluans so they can work aboard foreign vessels. This project was completed in 2011. The Global Economic Crisis (GEC) that began in 2007 has impacted on global export-import activities and the demand for shipping, which reduced the need for seafarers from Tuvalu.
The 1991 census identified 272 seaman working on merchant shipping. In 2002 the Tuvaluan Overseas Seaman’s Union (TOSU) estimated the number as 417 seaman working on shipping. Remittances from seafarers is a major source of income for Tuvaluan families. However the Global Financial Crisis has impacted on export/import activities with a resulting drop in job opportunities for Tuvaluan seaman on merchant shipping. In 2011 the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates there are 800 TMTI graduates registered for employment as seafarers. The ADB identify that the number of Tuvaluans employed as seafarers has decreased steadily from about 340 in 2001 to only 205 in 2010; so that of a total pool of 800 qualified seafarers, including those on leave, almost 450 were unemployed. This decline in seafarer employment has reduced remittances from $2.4 million in 2001 to a projected $1.2 million in 2010. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) also estimates that in 2010 there were approximately 200 Tuvaluan seafarers on ships. Job opportunities also exist as observers on tuna boats where the role is to monitor compliance with the boat's tuna fishing licence.
From 1996 to 2002, Tuvalu was one of the best performing Pacific Island economies and achieved an average real gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 5.6 per cent per annum. Since 2002 economic growth has slowed as Tuvalu was exposed to rapid rises in world prices fuel and food with the level of inflation peaking at 13.4% in 2008, and falling to -1¾% in November 2010. The International Monetary Fund 2010 Report on Tuvalu describes the economy as contracted over recent years, with real GDP growth of: 7.0 (2008), -1.7 (2009), 0.2 (2010), 0.0 (2011 est.).
However, due to the acute level of geographic, macroeconomic and financial isolation, scale of area, population infrastructure and agriculture, climate change, oil dependency, contracting GDP and economic dependency many sources in this decade view Tuvalu as an extremely vulnerable economy. The country is also imported-fuel dependent, with gas prices quoted at $12/gal (2009). The high cost of petroleum products has encouraged the development of projects to access renewable energy in Tuvalu.
Although listed by the UN as a Lower Middle Income LDC, it scores very high in terms of EVI (Economic Vulnerability Index), with a rating of 79.7 out of 100 in 2009, leading the UN to state that Tuvalu is the most "economically vulnerable country in the world". Due to the factors addressed earlier, Tuvalu yields a limited revenue from exports. Figures in 2007, estimated a Tuvalu export value of $100,410 derived from Copra and miscellaneous items such as stamps. The Tuvaluan economy therefore relies heavily on its fishing income, with 42% of the Tuvaluan population involved in fishing activity at various levels. UN Data calculated a gross value of fisheries at US$43,773,582 (2007 est), which accounted for the output of coastal commercial fishing, coastal subsistence fishing, locally based offshore fishing, foreign-based offshore fishing, freshwater fishing and aquaculture. In recent years all of the income has been generated through the listed activities in Tuvalu waters, rather than through exports direct from Tuvalu. The activities of international fishing vessels, which in 2008 comprised 42 longline fishing vessels, 3 pole/line vessels and 126 purse seiners, far outweigh domestic activity, with a production volume of 35,541 tonnes worth US$40,924,370 (2009 est) or 93.5% of gross value, although Tuvalu retains a sizeable share in income via licensing. The fishing in the 900,000 km2 of water area mainly consists of Skipjack Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna and Bigeye Tuna.
Public sector enterprises
The public sector enterprises are the National Bank of Tuvalu, Development Bank of Tuvalu, Tuvalu Electricity Corporation, Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation, Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau, Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute and Vaiaku Lagi Hotel.
Banking services are provided by the National Bank of Tuvalu.
Tuvaluan radio services are operated by the Tuvalu Media Corporation. The Tuvalu Media Corporation also publishes Sikuleo o Tuvalu - Tuvalu Echo (previously: Tuvalu Echoes), a fortnightly newspaper and a news website.
The Tuvalu National Provident Fund (TNPF) and the Copra Trading Co-operative (CTC) are owned by the members of each organisation. The TNPF provides its members with loans, for which each member’s account is used as collateral. The Tuvalu Cooperative Society is the main wholesaler and retailer in Tuvalu.
Private sector enterprises
The Tuvalu National Private Sector Organisation, the Tuvalu National Chamber of Commerce and Tuvalu Business Centre are active in supporting private sector enterprises. In order to set up a business in Tuvalu, an investor needs a start up capital of AUD$20,000, a Tuvaluan partner and pay a business registration fee of AUD$100. As of 2010 there are only seven foreign owned businesses operating in Tuvalu, which were mostly set up by Asian small business operators in the retail and restaurant sector.
Mackenzie Trading Limited, established by Mackenzie Kiritome in 2008, operates small retail outlets in the outer islands to sell merchandise in competition with the Co-operative Society (which is a community owned enterprise). In 2010 Mackenzie Trading Limited employed 40 people.
Te Kakeega II is the statement of the national strategy for the sustainable development of Tuvalu, with economic and social goals intended to be achieved in the period 2005 to 2015. After consultations on each islands the National Summit on Sustainable Development (NSSD), was held at the Tausoalima Falekaupule in Funafuti from 28 June to 9 July 2004. The meeting resulted in the Malefatuga Declaration, which is the foundation of Te Kakeega II. The follow-up document, the 2008 Kakeega Matrix Returns, “contained all the known aid projects, programmes, development initiatives and ideas adopted by the donors and the two successive Tuvalu governments (2004-2006 and 2006 to present)”.
The Tuvalu Trust Fund
The Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) was established in 1987 by the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand. The TTF, a prudently managed overseas investment fund, has contributed roughly 11% of the annual government budget each year since 1990. With a capital value of about 2.5 times GDP, the TTF provides an important cushion for Tuvalu's volatile income sources from fishing and royalties from the sale of the dot-TV domain. The ".tv" domain name generates around $2.2 million each year from royalties, which is about ten per cent of the government's total revenue. With an initial capital of about A$27 million at independence, the TTF now totals about A$100 million.
The value of the Tuvalu Trust Fund, as at 30 September 2012, was approximately A$127.3m (A$115.1 million), with the market value of the fund increasing by 10.5% during the 2011/2012 financial year. The Trust Fund, has contributed roughly (A$79 million) 15% of the annual government budget each year since 1990. With a capital value of about 2.5 times GDP, the Trust Fund provides an important cushion for Tuvalu's volatile income sources from fishing and royalties from the sale of the .tv domain  Meeting the needs of the 2013/14 budget of the Tuvaluan Government will require drawing from funds held in the “Consolidated Investment Fund”.
The capital of the Trust Fund is known as the “A Account”. The "B Account" or “Consolidated Investment Fund” (CIF) is a revolving “buffer account” that receives funds from the returns or “disbursements” of the "A Account". The operation of the Trust Fund through two accounts assists in stabilizing the long-term financial situation of the Government of Tuvalu as well as addressing short-term budget needs. The "B Account", which belongs exclusively to the Government, holds income distributions from the "A Account" until funds are needed to be used for the national budget. It therefore serves as a buffer against the volatility of the ‘A Account’ returns, i.e., during years when there are no returns or low returns. Brian Bell, a member of the Tuvalu Trust Fund Advisory Committee since the inception of the Trust Fund in 1987, describes the purpose of the Trust Fund as being:
- “The Tuvalu Trust Fund was aimed at providing a source of revenue to overcome a chronic budget deficit situation. The revenue is distributed to the Government from the A Account to the B Account. The amount needed is then drawn down into the consolidated revenue account as an additional source of revenue for expenditure on government services through the recurrent budget.”
The 20th anniversary review of the Tuvalu Trust Fund described the performance as being that:
- “In the first twenty years of operation the Fund has grown to $106.6 million in Market Value as at 30 June 2007. The real rate of return on the Fund has averaged 6.2 percent per annum providing $65.7 million in revenue to Tuvalu. Of this $24.1 million has been used to help fund budget deficits, $29.2 million has been reinvested in the Fund and $12.4 million is held in the CIF awaiting drawdown as at 30 June 2007. The Government’s subsequent reinvestments back into the Fund since inception raises Tuvalu’s contributions to the Fund to $29.8 million including the initial contribution of $1.6 million. It makes Tuvalu the major contributor to the Fund, which is evidence of Tuvalu’s commitment to the long term sustainability of the Fund.’
Falekaupule Trust Fund
In 1999 the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government of Tuvalu set up the Falekaupule Trust Fund, which is intended to improve services on the outer islands. The island councils - composed of traditional leaders - are responsible for managing their own finances from a budget allocated from the Tuvaluan Government from the Falekaupule Trust Fund. Under the Falekaupule Act, Falekaupule means “traditional assembly in each island...composed in accordance with the Aganu of each island”. Aganu means traditional custom and culture. The initial capital of Falekaupule Trust Fund was A$12m. The market value of the FTF has increased:
- “As at 30 June 2007, the FTF’s market value stood at $25.3 million. After eight years of operation, the FTF has made three distributions totalling to $4.7 million. A Reserve Account was established in 2005 having the exact same purpose as the CIF, which is to smooth out the stream of revenue from the main investment. At 30 June 2007, the FTF’s Reserve Account was $1.4 million.”
The global financial crisis affected the FTF, which is required maintained its value in real terms before a distribution can be made. At 30 September 2010, the maintained value was $27.3 million; the result of capital growth and contributions from development partners. This is some $3.5 million higher than the market value of $23.8 million. The gap of 15% between the market value and the maintained value must be recouped before another distribution can be made. Since the commencement of FTF the there have been only four years in which distributions were made. The FTF has distributed $6.4 million with some $5.3 million allocated to island development (the balance of $1.1 million is held in reserve by the communities). This equates to an average of $55,000 spent per island per year.
The Tuvalu Trust Fund was established for the intended purpose of helping to supplement national deficits, underpin economic development, and help the nation achieve greater financial autonomy. The Trust Fund, has contributed roughly (A$79 million) 15% of the annual government budget each year since 1990. With a capital value of about 2.5 times GDP, the Trust Fund provides an important cushion for Tuvalu's volatile income sources from fishing and royalties from the sale of the .tv domain. Meeting the needs of the 2013/14 budget of the Tuvaluan Government will require drawing from funds held in the “B Account” of the Tuvalu Trust Fund.
Government revenues largely come from sales of stamps and coins, fishing licenses, income from the Tuvalu Ship Registry, income from the TTF, and from the lease of its highly fortuitous .tv Internet Top Level Domain (TLD). In 1998. DotTV paid Tuvalu $50 million for the right to resell .tv to commercial users for 12 years. VeriSign acquired DotTV in 2002. The agreement to manage the .tv domain runs through 2021. Commercial businesses consider "tv" to be the most recognizable letters in the world and significant for representing how consumers will use the Internet in the future. Major League Baseball created MLB.tv to stream games. Other businesses have sought out .tv domain names due to the relative difficulty of creating a brand in the crowded .com space. In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" lines and from the commercialisation of its ".tv" Internet domain name. Domain name income paid most of the cost of paving the streets of Funafuti and installing street lighting in mid-2002. The commercialisation of the ".tv" Internet domain name is managed by Verisign until 2021.
Fishing licenses is an important source of revenue. The fishing in the 900,000 km2 of water area mainly consists of Skipjack Tuna, Yellowfin Tuna and Bigeye Tuna. Payments from US government made under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty (SPTT) was about $9 million in 1999. In May 2013 representatives from the United States and the Pacific Islands countries agreed to sign interim arrangement documents to extend the Multilateral Fisheries Treaty (which encompasses the South Pacific Tuna Treaty) to confirm access to the fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific for US tuna boats for 18 months. In 2015 Tuvalu has refused to sell fishing days to certain nations and fleets that have blocked Tuvaluan initiatives to develop and sustain their own fishery.
The Asian Development Bank described the Global Economic Crisis (GEC) as impacting on Tuvalu through: “(i) lower demand for Tuvalu seafarers and, therefore, falling remittances; (ii) volatile exchange rate movements affecting the value of remittances, revenues from fishing license fees, and food prices; and (iii) lower market value of the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF), which at the end of May 2010 was about 12% below the maintained value. Thus, as a direct result of the GEC, no distribution was made from the fund to the budget for 2010 and further distributions are unlikely while there is uncertainty in international financial markets.”
The IMF 2010 Country Report describes economic activity in Tuvalu as dampened by lower offshore earnings, with “[t]he economy is expected to have almost no growth in 2010, and growth is projected to be zero or even turn negative in 2011, led by lower government spending, and remain low over the medium term.”
Least developed country (LDC) status
The United Nations designates Tuvalu as a least developed country (LDC) because of its limited potential for economic development, absence of exploitable resources and its small size and vulnerability to external economic and environmental shocks. Tuvalu participates in the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries (EIF), which was established in October 1997 under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation. In 2013 Tuvalu deferred its graduation from least developed country (LDC) status to a Developing country to 2015. Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said that this deferral was necessary to maintain access by Tuvalu to the funds provided by the United Nations's National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), as "Once Tuvalu graduates to a developed country, it will not be considered for funding assistance for climate change adaptation programmes like NAPA, which only goes to LDCs". Tuvalu had meet targets so that Tuvalu was to graduate from LDC status. Prime minister, Enele Sopoaga wants the United Nations to reconsider its criteria for graduation from LDC status as not enough weight is given to the environmental plight of small island states like Tuvalu in the application of the Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI).
Australia and New Zealand continue to contribute capital to the Tuvalu Trust Fund and provide other forms of development assistance. Financial support to Tuvalu is also provided by Japan, South Korea and the European Union.
Tuvalu joined the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1993. To improve aid effectiveness, the government of Tuvalu, ADB, AusAID, and NZAID signed the Development Partners Declaration (DPD) in 2009. The DPD is designed to improve aid effectiveness, both in the implementation of specific projects and in assisting the Tuvaluan government achieve performance benchmark indicators.
Tuvalu became a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in July 2010 and also joined the World Bank. In 2013 the World Bank approved US$6.06 million in finance for the existing Tuvalu Aviation Investment Project (TvAIP) for the purpose of improving operational safety and oversight of international air transport and associated infrastructure at Funafuti International Airport.
Tuvalu participates in the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries (EIF), which was established in October 1997 under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation. In 2013 Tuvalu deferred its graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status to a Developing country to 2015. Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said that this deferral was necessary to maintain access by Tuvalu to the funds provided by the United Nations's National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), as “Once Tuvalu graduates to a developed country, it will not be considered for funding assistance for climate change adaptation programmes like NAPA, which only goes to LDCs”. Tuvalu had meet targets so that Tuvalu was to graduate from LDC status. Prime minister, Enele Sopoaga wants the United Nations to reconsider its criteria for graduation from LDC status as not enough weight is given to the environmental plight of small island states like Tuvalu. Sopoaga said that:
- “The present application of those criteria we feel is totally unrealistic and perhaps very very wrong. We need to address that. The application of the current criterias - we have no problem with the criterias but the application - EVI (Environmental Vulnerability Index) must be one of the two.”
GDP and other economic performance indicators
Further information sourced from: "Tuvalu: 2010 Article IV Consultation-Staff Report; Public Information Notice on the Executive Board Discussion; and Statement by the Executive Director for Tuvalu". International Monetary Fund Country Report No. 11/46. 8 February 2011. Retrieved 4 September 2011.
Total population: 10,837 (2012 Population & Housing Census Preliminary Analytical Report)
Labor force - by occupation: people make a living mainly through exploitation of the sea, reefs, and atolls and from wages sent home by those working abroad in Australia and New Zealand and sailors working of merchant ships.
Labour force: 3,615 (2004 est.)
Unemployment rate: 16.3% (2004)
(millions) Total revenues and grants: A$24.6 million (2010 budget); A$424.0 (2010 est.)
Total expenditures: A$32.6 million (2010 budget); A$34.0 (2010 est.)
(in percentage of GDP)
Revenue and grants: 89.8% (2009); 69.0% (2010 est.)
Current Revenue: 59.4% (2009) 49.3% (2010 est.)
Grants: 30.4% (2009); 19.7% (2010 est.)
Expenditure and net lending: 93.5% (2009); 97.75% (2010 est.)
Current expenditure: 78.0% (2009); 84.3% (2010 est.)
Capital Expenditure and net lending: 15.5% (2009); 13.5% (2010 est.)
Overall balance: -3.7% (2009); 28.7% (2010 est.)
Electricity - production: 3 GWh (1995)
Electricity - consumption: 3 GWh (1995)
Agriculture - products: coconuts; fish
Exports: $1 million (f.o.b., 2004)
Exports - commodities: copra, fish
Exports - partners: Germany 56.8%, Fiji 14.4%, Italy 10.9%, UK 7.7%, Poland 4.9% (2004)
Imports: $12.91 million (c.i.f., 2005)
Imports - commodities: food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, manufactured goods
Currency: 1 Tuvaluan dollar ($T) or 1 Australian dollar (A$) = 100 cents
Exchange rates: Tuvaluan dollars or Australian dollars per US dollar - 1.0902 (2010), 1.2822 (2009), 1.2137 (2007), 1.3285 (2006) 
Fiscal year: calendar year
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