Capital city: Funafuti
Population: 11,924 (2021)
Land area: 26 km²
Official languages: English, Tuvaluan
Legal system: Teutonic civil law, Roman law
Time zone: GMT+12
Currency: Tuvaluan Dollar (TVD), Australian Dollar (AUD)
GDP: 0.05 USD Billion (2020)
Main industries: Fishing and tourism
Principal exports: Non-fillet frozen fish, passenger and cargo ships, coin, metal-clad products, electrical power accessories
Situated in the middle of the Pacific and about halfway from Hawaii to Australia, Tuvalu is a small Polynesian island nation of around 26 km2 in area. In fact, Tuvalu is the world’s fourth smallest country and one of the Commonwealth’s smallest countries together with Nauru. Yet, the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone ranks 38th in size throughout the world, with around 900,000 km2 in area. Tuvalu comprises of nine coral islands over a distance of approximately 676 km. These include three reef islands and six coral atolls, all of which are low-lying in nature with the country’s maximum sea level being 4 to 5 meters. Only eight of these islands are traditionally inhabited, giving rise to the name “Tuvalu”, meaning “eight standing together” in Tuvaluan.
With its relatively small area, Tuvalu is home to around 11,000 people, who are largely Polynesian in ethnicity. Formerly named the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu was once part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands British colony, until the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands voted for independence from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) in 1974 due to ethnic differences. Tuvalu separated from the Gilbert Islands the following year and was formally granted independence by the British in 1978. However, the island of Nui remains substantially populated by Micronesians. The language of Kiribati is hence the most commonly used language on the island of Nui. In other parts of Tuvalu, Tuvaluan and English, its two official languages, are widely used. Tuvaluan is distinctly related to other Polynesian languages, especially Samoan, which is also a frequently used language within the nation.
A third of the population of Tuvalu is concentrated in Funafuti Atoll, where commercial and governmental activities are prevalent, and where the de facto capital of Tuvalu, the village of Vaiaku, is located. The rest of the Tuvaluan population is mainly scattered on the outer islands.
Although Tuvalu became independent from Britain in 1978, Queen Elizabeth II exceptionally remains Head of State, who is represented in the country by an acting governor. Tuvalu’s prime minister is elected by parliament, which consists of no political parties and is elected democratically by universal adult suffrage. The sources of law within the country include, majorly, legislation enacted by the Tuvaluan legislature and former British legislation, and also the common law and customary laws. Tuvaluan court proceedings that go beyond the Court of Appeal are referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of London.
As an island country, Tuvalu is rich in fish as one of its natural resources, in particular different tuna species. This has led to fishing exports being one of the nation’s most significant sources of income. In 2019, Tuvalu exported almost $10M USD of non-fillet frozen fish, making up more than half of its total exports of $17.8M USD. The export of passenger and cargo ships comes in near second, leading Tuvalu’s export industry by making up approximately 40% of its exports in monetary value. The country is dependent on Thailand and Indonesia as its main export destinations, while it relies largely on countries such as China, Japan and Fiji for its imported products.
The agriculture sector has played a key role in the development of the economy in Tuvalu. Most products such as coconut palms, breadfruit trees, tropical fruit and bananas grow well on its soil. In particular, coconut trees constitute the source for copra – dried coconut kernel, which is one of Tuvalu’s export commodities. For the internal needs of Tuvaluans, the nation primarily relies on subsistence farming, which, apart from agriculture, also includes raising poultry and pigs, as well as catching seabirds, fish and shellfish for food, and imports from other countries.
Major sources of government revenue consist of licensing and marketing activities. Tuvalu grants fishing licenses for the access for fishing vessels in its Exclusive Economic Zone, in return for a sizeable income which amounted to around $24 million USD in 2015. The income generated from selling fishing licenses consistently provides around a third of its government’s annual spending. The country is also a member of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, which controls 26% of the supply of tuna worldwide and allocates fishing days to foreign fishing nations.
Another substantial marketing agreement heavily depended upon by the nation is its sale of its internet domain name ‘.tv’ to a Californian company Verisign, which generates several million dollars per year in continuing revenue. This domain has been licensed to platforms such as Major League Baseball as well as the Amazon-owned platform Twitch through Verisign, and such agreement forms around a twelfth of Tuvalu’s annual gross national income. Although the contract between the two countries is to expire in 2021, it is most certain that Tuvalu will be able to successfully renegotiate or renew the contract regarding its internet domain.
Another considerable source of income for Tuvalu are the remittances from seafarers working overseas. Hundreds of Tuvaluan males are employed on foreign merchant ships owned by countries such as Germany, and provide remittances of their income to relatives living in Tuvalu. The only registered trade union in Tuvalu, the Tuvalu Overseas Seamen’s Union, was established to represent such workers, while the Tuvalu Maritime Training Institute ensures that these workers are properly trained. In 2017, the overall remittance rate of migrants constituted around 10% of the country’s GDP.
Tuvalu has a rich culture especially in terms of performance arts. Its traditions of song and dance include its famous faatele, a dancing song of Tuvalu which is commonly performed at celebratory events and festivities. The country also sees a certain production of traditional arts and crafts, especially the decoration of skirts and other handicrafts, which make up some of the exports of the country.
Tuvalu joined the Commonwealth as a special member in 1978 and became a full member since 2000. This makes it one of the last Commonwealth member countries to join the association as a full member. The country is an active participant in the Commonwealth Blue Charter as an initiative to on ocean issues, with a focus in marine pollution and a blue economy. Tuvalu has also occasionally participated in the Commonwealth Games, with its first appearance at the Games being the year of 1998.