Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa. [Image: Dr. Matt Kendall / NOAA Photo Library / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

American Samoa’s Real GDP Sees 4% Growth in 2020

The Pacific

On November 30, 2021, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released statistics on the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of American Samoa. The statistics were developed under a program funded by the Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) of the US Department of the Interior, the agency that oversees the administration of US territories and the Freely-Associated States.

The BEA report found that American Samoa’s real GDP grew by 4% in 2020, bucking global and regional trends of economic contraction due to COVID-19. The 2020 real GDP is estimated to be $709 million, up from the 2019 estimate of $648 million. This increase reflects widespread growth in the major components of American Samoa’s economy. Private inventory spending, government spending, and exports all grew substantially in 2020. Notably, exports increased 15.5% from 2019, largely driven by the tuna canning industry. This was enough to offset the GDP losses from an 11.9% increase in imports. The 2020 statistics stand in sharp comparison to those from 2019. In 2019, the real GDP of American Samoa shrank by 0.9%.

The economy of American Samoa is primarily driven by tuna fishing and processing operations in addition to public-sector spending by the US federal government. Attempts by the territorial government to diversify the economy are hampered by the remote location, small size, and natural disasters. Many residents of American Samoa migrate to Hawaiʻi and the continental United States in search of better job and educational opportunities. Between 2010 and 2020, the population of American Samoa fell by 10.5%. Despite this, there is potential to further develop the tourism sector as a source of jobs and income, especially around the National Park of American Samoa.

American Samoa was largely insulated from the worst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The territory recorded its first and only case of COVID-19 in September 2021. American Samoa’s tuna canning industry was less affected by the pandemic than those in other parts of the world. Exports of canned tuna and related products increased, as did private industry investment. Territorial government spending was supported by federal grants, including the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The growth of American Samoa’s real GDP in 2020 is positive news for the territory, which has long struggled to maintain a stable economy. As the US government shifts its global posture to focus on the Indo-Pacific, it is likely that American Samoa will see an increase in investment in the defense and infrastructure sectors. American Samoa is an important part of the United States’ presence in the Pacific Ocean, and its economic health is beneficial to national and regional security.

Lily Schlieman is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a Master's Student at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa in Pacific Island Studies and Ocean Policy.