17 August 2023

Taking the reins to drive a sustainable trade agenda

by Simon Hess / in Impact story


  • The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) has helped revitalize two of Samoa’s key export crops, namely cocoa and coconut. This has been achieved through interventions such as a replanting scheme, centralized production facilities, and improved plantation and crop logistics.
  • The EIF supported a project to centralize the Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI)'s production of virgin coconut oil, which led to a significant increase in its sales and exports during the project period, including to The Body Shop.  
  • Improved regulatory frameworks, including for services trade and domestic employment conditions, resulted from the Government’s development of Samoa's National Employment Policy and Labour Force Survey, co-financed by the EIF and the International Labour Organization. Literacy and numeracy training, funded by the EIF, was conducted for seasonal workers mobilized under the Australia and New Zealand temporary labour mobility schemes.
  • The EIF supported Samoa’s transition for graduation from the least developed country (LDC) status.

In June 2018, Alberta Vitale stood before an audience at the first Global Forum on Inclusive Trade for the LDCs in Geneva, organized by the EIF. She was there to pitch her business idea during a “Dragon’s Den” side‑event, where three women entrepreneurs had been selected to present their pitches in just five minutes to four “dragons”, representing the European Union, the Swedish International Development Agency, The Body Shop, and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations and Other International Organizations at Geneva. 

Her pitch outlined how her organization had strengthened the economy of 183 Samoan villages by helping 796 coconut farmers produce certified organic coconut oil. Overall, the farmers earned the Samoan tala equivalent of nearly USD 230,000 in a single year. She not only impressed the “dragons”, but also provided tangible evidence of the power of trade for development in uplifting people’s lives. 

She achieved this through a journey that included her organization’s vision, the commitment and support of the EIF and the Government of Samoa, and the building of partnerships, institutions and frameworks that would enable Samoa to use trade as an engine for development and poverty reduction. 

Paving the way

Samoa, a small island nation in the central South Pacific Ocean, has a population of just under 220,000. Here, people of working age (15–65) account for 68% of the population and are mainly employed in agriculture and fisheries. Its export products, with fish making up almost 50% of total exports in terms of value, are mainly destined for American Samoa, and coconut products for Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. The nation’s popularity as a tourism destination is growing, and seasonal labour opportunities to regional countries constitute an important services export. 

A government partnership established with the EIF in 2010 led to evidence-based research and analysis that helped identify priorities and provided recommendations to guide Samoa’s trade agenda. The result, the Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS), served as a basis for Samoa's Trade, Commerce and Manufacturing Sector Plan 2012-2016 (TCMSP). Both documents were also reviewed before the end of EIF support to Samoa and were then superseded by the DTIS Update in 2016 and the TCMSP 2016/2017-2020/2021, respectively.

The goal of the TCMSP was to increase trade and job creation based on four pillars: i) industry supply and productivity, ii) processing and value adding, iii) market access, and iv) sector support and planning. This, in turn, was integrated into the Strategy for the Development of Samoa (SDS) 2012-2016 and the SDS 2016/2017-2020/2021. These strategies were committed to reducing poverty by increasing employment, generating growth, and promoting the expansion and diversification of exports. At the same time, they considered the need to build resilience to natural disasters, including cyclones, droughts and the impacts of climate change, which frequently affect Samoa. 

EIF support contributed significantly to policy reviews, alignment of legislation, development of consumer protection standards, and enhancing the capacity of sector stakeholders, including through recruitment of technical staff. 

Among the policies developed were the Samoa National Employment Policy, which sought to increase the level of employment in key industries through education, training and upskilling. Trade policy and regulatory frameworks were strengthened through the enactment of legislation such as the Competition and Consumer Bill, the Food Safety Bill, and the Legal Metrology Act, which together aimed to promote fair trade and protect public health, safety and the environment. Support was further extended to build the private sector’s capacity to obtain International Organization for Standardization and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certifications.

The EIF also provided technical and administrative support to revamp the Seasonal Employment Unit as a Labour Employment Export Programme (LEEP), which directly links to the Trade in Services component of EIF support. LEEP is a national labour mobility scheme that mobilizes an average 5,000 unskilled to semi-skilled employees (above the age of 21) annually under Australia's and New Zealand’s temporary labour mobility schemes. The EIF funded literacy, numeracy, pre-departure and business development training for workers under these schemes.

Testing the power of Trade for Development

The growth of the "health food" sector has seen a boom in global coconut demand. This product has long played an important role in the island's local economy. Value addition in the form of coconut oil and coconut water, among others, has increased Samoa’s trade potential. However, prospects were held back by the island’s ageing crops of coconut trees. "Many of the coconut trees in Samoa were planted 50 to 60 years ago and were well past their productive years" Patea Lilo Malo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Samoa Trust Estates Corporation (STEC), a state-owned enterprise and the largest landowner in Samoa, told the EIF in 2018. 

Further, while Samoa’s raw coconut oil is well regarded in the industry – for example, by companies like The Body Shop – the country remains relatively isolated from international markets.

An EIF-supported project saw an opportunity to overcome the challenges, working together with WIBDI in Samoa, the non-governmental organization where EIF "Dragons’ Den" contender, Alberta Vitale, is Associate Director. WIBDI, in its capacity as an implementing agency that deals directly with community groups, vulnerable families and women, saw an opportunity to engage with communities to ensure that their products meet the highest quality standards, given the growing global demand for coconut oil. 

Tackling both coconut and cocoa, the project allocated funds to WIBDI, STEC and the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS). STEC led the process of replanting and maintaining coconut and cocoa trees. By 2019, about 300 acres of STEC land had been covered, amounting to 10,080 coconut trees and 20,240 cocoa trees. SROS was tasked with improving production and processing capacities – assisted by WIBDI ­– research and development, and the construction of a processing facility, with an emphasis on the attainment of HACCP certification. According to Muliufi Nickel, Assistant CEO responsible for the Policy, Planning and Project Management Division in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, the project was a game-changer: 

A high number of unskilled youth were employed in the replanting programme. The opportunity helped these young people to provide for their families and accomplish their community engagement goals through community youth groups. One group, for example, bought furniture for their community hall and a truck to assist them with daily transportation needs.

Two warehouses were constructed under the project: one for WIBDI to centralize and maximize the production of virgin coconut oil and other niche products; and an STEC warehouse for the mass production of cocoa. The STEC warehouse was also intended to centralize operations for consistent supply to private sector processors.

The project also funded a Trade Marketing Promotion Officer (TMPO) role, housed under the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), the partner in charge of strengthening trade facilitation services. The TMPO helped the private sector with its marketing and promotional needs, as well as improving awareness and capacity on how to take advantage of existing trade agreements for private sector trade development. 

Samoa’s value-added coconut and cocoa products have been showcased at trade fairs across the Asia-Pacific region as part of a campaign to "Buy Samoa Made". WIBDI showed records of a 48% increase in sales income for the year 2018, with this growth continuing to climb by more than 50% in 2019. The Body Shop and C1Espresso now promote their fairtrade coconut oil and coffee partnerships with WIBDI, supporting farmers to plant and harvest coconuts that end up as virgin coconut oil for The Body Shop’s United Kingdom market. Other programmes by WIBDI target job creation for rural youth and linking them to more than 500 organically certified village farmers on the two main islands of Samoa. 

The benefits of the EIF-supported project have extended beyond its closure in 2019. According to Nickel, the WIBDI project has leveraged additional financing from several other bilateral development partners. WIBDI is one of two organizations working to build the resilience of local communities. It was awarded nearly USD 1 million from a USD 1.5 million grant by the United States Agency for International Development. Nickel explained: 

The funding is for protecting small coconut tree farms in Samoa from coconut rhinoceros beetles using biological methods. The project is expected to work with 2,000 households throughout the islands.

The work with STEC has been expanded, complemented and sustained by the Samoa Cocoa Industry Development initiative (SCIDI)-funded project and in partnership with the SCCI. SCIDI signed a memorandum of understanding with STEC in 2017, focused on alleviating cocoa export barriers and improving cocoa-farming capacity in Samoa. The project lasted five years, ending in December 2022, and STEC has integrated this work into its personnel functions for consistency and sustainability. 

Going digital

Samoa's e-Trade Readiness Assessment was the first such initiative to be funded by the EIF, setting the stage for Samoans to "go digital" with trade. The assessment was carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in collaboration with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. 

The assessment identified unreliable and expensive internet connections and a dependence on and trust in cash as among the key barriers to e-commerce. An underwater cable connecting Samoa to Fiji's Southern Cross Cable is expected to boost internet connectivity and affordability.

"One specific challenge is the contradicting and overlapping regulations adopted by different ministries and government agencies", Cécile Barayre, an UNCTAD Legal Officer who worked on the assessment, told reporters in 2017.

However, e-commerce presents great opportunities, especially for women entrepreneurs. A 2023 World Economic Forum article jointly penned by Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD Director of Technology and Logistics, and EIF Executive Director, Ratnakar Adhikari, emphasizes the potential gains for women: 

[E-commerce] offers lower barriers to entry than traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. This means that women entrepreneurs can start their businesses with lower start-up costs and without the need for a physical storefront; it can enable women entrepreneurs to reach customers all over the world; and it offers a degree of flexibility in terms of work hours and location.

In the driver’s seat

The island nation joined the WTO in 2012 and graduated from LDC status in 2014. It continued to benefit from post-graduation support from the EIF until 2019 to enable the sustainability of its growth through trade.

The EIF played an important role in Samoa’s transition from LDC status, supporting two country trade analysis processes: the first in 2010 and the DTIS Update in 2016 post-LDC graduation. Its engagement with the island nation during the post-graduation stage has helped to set the stage for continued and sustainable pro-poor development, by encouraging the establishment of institutions and coordination mechanisms within the Government and between the Government, the private sector and civil society. These initiatives have been supplemented by productive capacity-building support, which contributed to enhancing the competitiveness of sectors with the country's comparative advantage as well as to reduce trade costs. 


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As the second phase of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) comes to an end in 2024, the objective is to produce a catalogue of impact stories showcasing the efforts of the EIF partnership in the least developed countries (LDCs) and recently graduated LDCs where it has been actively engaged. This impact story makes up one of the stories in the catalogue. Essential input and reviews were received from the country‑based EIF National Implementation Units (NIUs) and the wider EIF team. 

The primary objective of each impact story, as well as the entire catalogue, is to adopt a journalistic approach in recounting the EIF's engagement in the LDCs during both Phase One and Two. The aim is to offer valuable insights and to document outcomes and impacts, as well as some lessons learned from the work of the EIF partnership in the LDCs. These stories do not provide a comprehensive overview of every aspect of EIF partnership engagement such as precise timelines or the exact extent of involvement (i.e., financial contributions). Instead, they serve as one of several means of information about the work of the EIF partnership. Interested readers are encouraged to supplement these impact stories by consulting other sources, including EIF Annual Reports, Trade for Development News articles, EIF social media channels, and, where applicable, the NIUs in the LDCs as well as the EIF Executive Secretariat.

It is essential to acknowledge that the information provided is neither exhaustive (e.g., it is based on the latest available data at the time of writing in 2023) nor evaluative in nature. 

Lastly, while each impact story adheres to a similar structure, the diverse range of countries, contexts, and EIF engagements means that each story is unique.

Any views and opinions expressed on Trade for Development News are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect those of EIF.