Imports run 10 times higher than exports; food imports alone exceed all exports. Bony junk food not sold in its place of origin is dumped in Samoa: chicken backs and turkey tails from the United States, mutton flaps and fatty canned corned beef from New Zealand.
The main export items are fish, automotive electrical systems, garments, beer, coconut cream, nonu fruit, taro, and cocoa. Fresh fish grew from almost nothing to the top export item in 2002, accounting for 40 percent of Samoa's non-tourism exports. Most of the fish are sent to the canneries at Pago Pago, and American Samoa and the United States are Samoa's largest trading partners.
During the 1950s, Samoa exported 1.2 million cases of bananas a year to New Zealand, but shipping problems, hurricanes, disease, and inefficiency cost them this market, which is now supplied by Ecuador. Recently, however, the smaller, tastier Samoan bananas have reappeared in Auckland supermarkets, where they command high prices.
Organic fruits and vegetables are a niche market in which small producers can compete with the pesticide-rich output of American conglomerates, and such exports are growing fast. Taro shipments to the Polynesian community in New Zealand were halted in 1994 due to an outbreak of taro leaf blight, but in 2002 they resumed after a blight-resistant variety was introduced.
Infestations by rhinoceros beetles and giant African snails have hurt Samoan agriculture, and some 7,000 hectares of prime real estate is held by inept government agencies.
Japan, the United States, and New Zealand profit most from the trade imbalance—a classic case of economic neocolonialism. New Zealand exports 10 times more to Samoa than it buys, the United States 20 times more, Japan 2,000 times more! An exception is Australia, which buys more than it sells due to the Yazaki operation previously mentioned.
Foreign aid covers about 10 percent of the trade imbalance with the main donors being China, the Asian Development Bank, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, and the United Nations Development Program. Taiwan has funded the opposition in Samoa in an attempt to break this country's close relationship with mainland China. American aid is negligible.
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