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Map of French Polynesia

Map of French Polynesia.
flag of the Kingdom of French Polynesia.

French Polynesia

Key facts

Official Name: French Polynesia (la Polynésie Française)
Capital City: Papeete
Land Area: Total: 4,167 sq km (118 islands and atolls in five archipelagos)
Land: 3,660 sq km
Population: 267,000 (2010)
Protestant 54%, Roman Catholic 30%, Other 16%
Languages: French and Tahitian
Currency: CFP/XFP (French Pacific franc)
Exchange Rate: CFP 73.44 = NZ$1 (June 2012)
EEZ: 5.03 million sq km


Political system: French Polynesia is an “Overseas Collectivity” of France with autonomy in a number of domestic areas and in the international arena. France continues to control key state competencies such as law and order, security and defence, and finance.

National government: The Government of French Polynesia consists of a 15-member executive known as the Council of Ministers. This body is appointed by the President of the Government, who in turn is elected by a majority vote of all the members in the Assembly of French Polynesia. The President's term of office is five years.

National legislature: The 57 members of the Assembly of French Polynesia are elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. They are elected by proportional representation from the five French Polynesian archipelagos. Under the 'majority bonus' system, the party that secures the most votes in a particular electorate gets an extra 30 percent of the seats in that constituency. Because it is still part of France, French Polynesia is also represented in the French National Assembly by three elected Deputies (Édouard Fritch , Jonas Tahuaitu and Jean-Paul Tuaiva) and by two Senators in the French Parliament (Gaston Flosse and Richard Tuheiava) – all of whom are pro-autonomy in a continuing association with France.

Last election:
Legislative elections: 2 and 16 June 2012
General elections: 27 January 2008 (first round) and 10 February 2008 (second round)
Municipal elections: March 2008
Senatorial elections: 21 September 2008

Next election:
General elections: expected in 2013
Municipal elections: 2013
Senatorial elections: 2014

Head of State: HE François Hollande - President of France

Political responsibility for French Polynesia in France lies with the Minister for Overseas Territories, Manuel Valls and the Minister responsible for Overseas France, Victor Lurel.

High Commissioner Richard Didier represents the French Government in Papeete.

Head of Government: HE Oscar Manutahi Temaru - President of French Polynesia
President of the Assembly (Speaker) - Mr Jacqui Drollet

Key Ministers

HE Oscar Manutahi Temaru
President of French Polynesia; Responsible for international and regional relations, tourism and international air transport

Mr Antony Géros
Vice-President - Responsible for budget, development of the communes, digital economy, communication, relations with the French Polynesian institutions. Spokesperson for the government

Mr Pierre Frébault
Minister for finance, labour and employment. Responsible for fiscal reform, professional training, administration and public sector reforms

Mr James Salmon
Minister for public utilities, land transport. Responsible for ports and airports

Mr Temauri Foster
Minister for marine resources. Responsible for pearl industry, fisheries, aquaculture and green technologies

Mr Tauhiti Nena
Minister for education of the youth and sports. Responsible for higher education, research and associations

Mr Louis Frébault
Minister of town planning and housing. Responsible for land affairs and town planning

Mr Jacky Bryant
Minister for the environment, energy and mines

Mr Charles Tetaria
Minister of health and solidarity; Responsible for generalised social protection

Mrs Chantal Tahiata
Minister of culture, craftworks and family; Responsible for the condition of women

Mr Kalani Teixeira
Minister of agriculture and farming; Responsible for biotechnologies

Mr Daniel Herlemme
Minister for the development of the islands, transports between the islands; Responsible for the renewal of the coconut groves

Main Political Parties:

The two longstanding political parties in French Polynesia are:  The pro-independence Union pour la Democratie (UPLD) coalition led by Oscar Temaru and the pro-autonomy Tahoera’a Huira’atira Party led by Gaston Flosse. Alliance pour une Democratie Nouvelle (ADN) is a centrist party formed by Nicole Bouteau (No oe o Te Nunaa party) and Philip Schyle (Fetia Api Party).

Gaston Tong Sang formed a pro-autonomy political federation, To tatou ai’a, in August 2007. In February 2008 an islands-based political federation, Te Mana o te Mau Motu (co-ordinated by Justine Teura and Michel Yip), emerged.


GDP: XFP 536 million (2006)

GDP per capita: XFP 2.1 million (2006)

Exports (FOB): XPF   14,386 million (2011)

Main exports (2011): Pearls and pearl jewellery: 7,320 million XPF
Fish products: 742.7 million XPF

Imports (CIF): 153,993 million XPF (2011))

Inflation: 1.8% (2011)
Source: Overview of the French Polynesian Economy for 2011, published by the Institut d'émission d'outre mer (IEOM) in March 2012.

New Zealand Trade

NZ Exports (FOB): NZ$189 million (for year ended December 2011)

Main Exports: NZ$000
Yachts/other vessels 46,669
Meat - chilled and frozen 48,180
Dairy products - butter, milk powder, fresh milk and cream 26,893
Iron or steel products 8,542
Aluminium products 8,069
Cane or beet sugar 7,167
Petroleum gases 6,199
Cement 4,295

NZ Imports (CIF): NZ$2.8 million (for year ended December 2011)

Main Imports: NZ$000
Natural or cultured pearls 496
Copper (waste and scrap) 494
Aluminium (waste or scrap) 397
Ferrous (waste or scrap) 388
Petroleum oils, not crude 167

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Key events

AD300 Polynesian settlers arrive in the Marquesas Islands.
AD800 Settlement of the Society Islands.  These groups established a structured hierarchy of hereditary tribal chiefs with no dominant tribal groups.
1595 Spanish navigators explore the Marquesas Islands.
1767 English explorer Samuel Wallis arrives. First contact between Europeans and Polynesians established in Tahiti.
1768 French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville arrives in Tahiti and claims it for France.
1768 -1842 Great Britain and France seek influence over the islands, sending in missionaries and exploratory vessels.
1842 Tahiti becomes a French Protectorate in November 1842, making it the first island in the Pacific to come under the control of a foreign power.
1880 King Pomare V abdicates and Tahiti becomes a French colony under the name of Etablissements français de l’Océanie (EFO, French Establishments in Oceania). 
1901 The EFO incorporates all of the Society Islands as well as the Marquesas Islands, most of the Austral Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago and the Gambier Islands.  The Leeward Islands, Rurutu and Rimatara in the Austral Islands retain a special political status with their own legal systems until 1945.
1945 The EFO is transformed into a French Overseas Territory and all Tahitians are granted French citizenship.
1946 The French Government establishes the first territorial assembly with 30 elected members.
1957 The territory is reconstituted “French Polynesia”, broadening the assembly’s responsibilities and creating a government council of 6-8 ministers.
1958 A referendum on secession is held in all French territories, during which the popular majority votes to remain with France. The French Parliament subsequently revokes the limited autonomy granted to French Polynesia and restores full powers to the French Governor.
1962 - 1996 Nuclear Testing Period The French government establishes a nuclear testing centre on the Tuamotu atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa, which was operational between 1966 and 1996.
The testing sites have since been dismantled, the surrounding military structure disbanded, and only a small contingent remains stationed on Moruroa for purposes of radiological monitoring.
French Polynesia continues to press France for adequate compensation for both the human health and environmental effects of nuclear testing and to have the military sites on Moruroa and Fangataufa transferred to it from France.
1977 Following a series of nationalist protests, the French Parliament approves a new statute and returns French Polynesia to an organisational structure resembling that of 1957.
1984 Statute of Autonomy passed allowing French Polynesia to have its own flag and anthem alongside the emblems of the French Republic. The President acquires chief executive powers and new areas of responsibility. The regulatory powers of the Council of Ministers are also extended.
1996 Further revisions to the Statute of Autonomy accord French Polynesia responsibilities for the territorial budget, health, primary education, social welfare, public works and agriculture, along with increased influence in external affairs.
2003 France undertakes a major review of its Constitution with regard to its overseas possessions which establishes the category of Overseas Collectivity. Under the amended Constitution ‘collectivités’ remain part of the French Republic subject to special regulations and a specific political organisation.
2004 New autonomy statute for French Polynesia passed leading to increased autonomy.

Since 2004, French Polynesia has been experiencing a sustained period of political instability with 13 different governments, led by the following three Presidents at various times:

Oscar Temaru became President again in April 2011, following the passing of a motion of no confidence against Tong Sang.In 2011, the French government intervened with a series of electoral reforms to bring about stability.

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Economic situation

French Polynesia’s economy enjoyed consistent growth from 1997 after implementing an economic strategy focusing on the development of tourism, pearl farming and fishing, until the events of 11 September 2001.  Tourism and pearl farming continue to be important revenue-earners for French Polynesia, however the tourism industry has been struggling for several years, compounded by the 2008 global economic crisis.   The economic outlook for French Polynesia is currently uncertain.

French Polynesia’s economy is characterised by a narrow export base and a dependency on French financial aid (approximately 35% of GDP).  Until 1996, a large proportion of French Polynesia’s economy (around 22% of GDP) was also based around income and employment generated by nuclear testing.  France has agreed to various funding packages to compensate French Polynesia for loss of testing-related spending and to help transition its economy to self-sufficiency, but challenges remain.

The high reliance on France as a critical source of income has resulted in a high cost of living (with a growing income disparity), an inflated public sector, high wage costs and a decline in primary production.  France’s scaling back of activity in French Polynesia, following the end of nuclear testing, has contributed to rising unemployment as well as cuts to public sector salaries and benefits, prompting periods of civil unrest (strikes and demonstrations).

The continued political instability has dampened investor confidence in the government’s ability to guide French Polynesia’s economy out of its current depressed state.  French financial aid is managing to keep the economy afloat for the moment, but without economic diversification and improved political stability, French Polynesia’s economy will continue to struggle.

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Foreign relations

Under the French Constitution, France is responsible for conducting foreign relations on behalf of French Polynesia.  France represents French Polynesia in international bodies such as the United Nations. 

However, French Polynesia’s regional links in the Pacific have been growing in recent years to reflect its constitutional status as an autonomous territory.  For example, French Polynesia is a member of the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and in 1999 hosted the SPC Conference. It is an associate member of ESCAP and the Pacific Islands Forum (from 2006).  It is also eligible for benefits under the EU/ACP successor agreement to Lome IV Convention signed in Cotonou, Benin in June 2000.

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Relations with New Zealand

Bilateral linkages

New Zealand has close indigenous and cultural links with French Polynesia.  The French Polynesian island of Raiatea is thought to be one of the main islands from which Maori departed on their voyage to New Zealand.  The area that is now French Polynesia is considered to be the source of te reo Maori and French Polynesia’s indigenous languages possess a close linguistic association with contemporary spoken Maori.

French Polynesia is currently New Zealand’s third highest value export market in the Pacific.  Exports for the year ended December 2011 were NZ $189 million, made up mainly of a variety of agricultural and industrial products. New Zealand imports from French Polynesia in the same period were NZ$2.8 million consisting mainly of pearls and a variety of metal waste or scrap products.

Development cooperation

The New Zealand Consulate-General in Noumea manages a modest programme of assistance to French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna offering short term training awards.  These awards provide training opportunities in New Zealand with the objective of enhancing equitable social and economic development in the French Pacific Territories.  The awards cover English language training followed by technical courses and/or work attachments. The New Zealand Consulate General in Noumea also administers an annual Head of Mission Fund to support small scale development projects in the French Pacific Territories including French Polynesia.

Air services

Air New Zealand and Air Tahiti Nui both fly to French Polynesia from New Zealand. New Zealand and French Polynesia began air services negotiations in early 2012 towards renewing the Air Services Agreement between them.


The French Naval Forces in the Pacific are based in Pape’ete. New Zealand and France co-operate through the France, Australia, New Zealand (FRANZ) arrangement in the areas of maritime surveillance and emergency and disaster relief.



Visits to French Polynesia

Visits to New Zealand

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Travel advice

The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to French Polynesia [external link].

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Page last updated: Monday, 09 December 2013 13:00 NZDT