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French Polynesia

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French Polynesia country brief

Overview

French Polynesia is a French overseas territory with a high level of autonomy under the terms of the 2004 Organic Law (2004-192). It comprises five archipelagos (Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier and Australs). French Polynesia is spread over more than 5.3 million square kilometres, approximately the size of Europe. It is located in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, approximately 6,000 kilometres east of Australia and 7,500 kilometres west of Chile.

French Polynesia's main island, Tahiti, became a French protectorate in 1842, and France took possession of French Polynesia as a whole in 1880. The population in 2017 was 283,007.

Political overview

French Polynesians are French citizens with the right to live anywhere in France. They are entitled to vote in local and French national elections.

The President of the French Republic is French Polynesia's Head of State and is represented by a High Commissioner, currently Dominique Sorain.

French Polynesia was designated a French overseas territory in 1946 and given a Territorial Assembly on 25 October 1946. French Polynesia's constitutional status, its institutions, legal powers and relationship with France is defined by statute which has been amended several times since 1946 by the French Government, and most recently in 2004.

French Polynesia is a parliamentary democracy, with a 57-seat Assembly and an executive headed by a President, elected by a simple majority vote within the Assembly for a five-year term. Assembly members also serve five-year terms.

French Polynesia uses its own flag, seal and anthem in conjunction with French national symbols.

On 6 May 2018, French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch's party, Tapura Huiraatira, won more than 49 per cent of votes in the second round of territorial elections. Mr Fritch was re-elected President of French Polynesia on 18 May 2018.

In May 2013, French Polynesia was reinscribed on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Economic overview

French Polynesia's economy has faced a number of challenges since the end of nuclear testing in 1996, due largely to the country's limited resources, options for diversification, and its isolation. After recent years of increased economic activity and expansion into new sectors, it has experienced a major contraction due to the impact of COVID-19 on international tourism, which remains a mainstay of the economy.

Financial transfers from France (approximately $2 billion per annum) have traditionally made up around 30 per cent of French Polynesia's GDP.. Of these transfers, approximately half is for the delivery of the responsibilities of the Territorial Government, while the remained is for French State-based responsibilities such as defence, justice, security and higher education and disbursements to municipal governments.

Foreign relations

French Polynesia maintains close ties with other Pacific island countries and territories, particularly its near Polynesian neighbours through the Polynesian Leaders' Group, trading partnerships and other links.

French Polynesia is a member of the Pacific Community (SPC), the South Pacific Regional Evironment Priogram (SPREP), the Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP), and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO).

In 2016, leaders decided to admit French Polynesia as a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Bilateral relations

Currently the Australian Consul-General in Noumea is accredited to French Polynesia, and Australia also has an Honorary Consul based in Papeete. As part of Australia’s stepped up engagement in the Pacific, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia would open a new Consulate-General in Papeete (scheduled for 2021).

Visa waiver arrangements negotiated by Australia and France in 1998, and a working holiday-maker arrangement with France from 1 January 2004, have also been beneficial in promoting two-way exchange.

Australia is currently French Polynesia's 8th largest import source and 11th most important export destination. In 2016-17, Australian merchandise exports to French Polynesia totalled $52 million (primarily cereal preparations, cheese, coffee and substitutes and liquefied propane and butane). High import duties on non-EU products and some quotas restrict the potential for Australian exports.

Distance and transport costs are other limiting factors. An ongoing program of tax reform, involving the phased elimination of a number of French Polynesian import duties in favour of a value-added tax, should make market access conditions more attractive in the longer term, although French/EU exporters will probably continue to enjoy certain practical advantages (including existing relationships and a common language and legal system).

In 2016-17, Australia imported $2.2 million worth of goods from French Polynesia, mostly pearls and gems. As French Polynesia is currently entitled to 'developing country' status under the Australian Customs Tariff, most French Polynesian goods entering the Australian market are given a five percent reduction on the general tariff rate. There is negligible Australian investment in French Polynesia and approximately $68 million of French Polynesian investment in Australia.

Trade and Investment

In 2018 Australia was French Polynesia's 8th largest import source and 15th most important export destination. In 2018-19, Australian merchandise exports to French Polynesia totalled $54 million (primarily cereal preparations, cheese, coffee and substitutes and liquefied propane and butane), while services exports totalled $9 million.

In return, Australia imported $1.6 million worth of goods from French Polynesia, mostly pearls and gems, and $32 million in services, mostly tourism.

People-to-people links

Since 2007, Australia awarded 20 Australia Awards scholarships to French Polynesian students. Although French Polynesians students are no longer eligible for Australia Awards scholarships there continues to be regular two-way educational exchanges. This includes through the New Colombo Plan, which saw its first visit of Australian students to the territory in 2019.

Australia has been a strong supporter of the International Oceanian Documentary Film Festival (FIFO) in French Polynesia for many years, with a high-level of participation from Australian entrants and guests. Most recently at the 17th Edition of FIFO in 2020, Daniel Gordon’s documentary about Adam Goodes ‘The Australian Dream’ took out the People’s Choice Award and the 2nd Jury Special Award.   

High-level visits and meetings

  • August 2019: The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, visited French Polynesia for the Pacific Heads of Health Meeting.
  • June 2019: Minister for Public Administration, Energy and the Digital Economy, Téa Frogier, visited Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra.
  • July 2017: meeting between the Vice President of French Polynesia, Mr Teva Rohrfritsch and Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, in Noumea

Visitor information

Australians travelling to French Polynesia are advised to consult the Smartraveller travel advice.

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