In 2016, Vanuatu had an estimated GDP of US 807M. The nation’s economy is composed primarily by agricultural production, resource extraction, and services related to tourism and the financial sector.
In the rural areas of the country, the sale of fish, crops and handicrafts remain the most common means of income, whereas urban centres such as Port Vila rely more heavily on wage-based income derived from service-sector work related to tourism and the public sector. The 2009 economic census found nearly 80 percent of Port Vila households rely on wage-based income as their primary source of income.
The Port Vila 2016 Gross City Product, calculated based on employment ratios, is estimated to be approximately USD 320M, or 40 percent of the national total. Despite the prominence of Port Vila in the national economy, a far greater proportion of Port Vila residents are unable to meet their basic needs (18.4%) than rural Vanuatu residents (10%). Furthermore, the depth of poverty in Port Vila is found to be nearly double that for populations living outside of urban centres.
National Economy and Urban Economy
Vanuatu GDP per capita of approximately USD 3,000 ranks 148th out of 184 analysed countries according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OEC Atlas. According to 2015 estimates, Vanuatu imports nearly USD 328M worth of goods and services, exporting only USD 133M of goods and services, resulting in a negative trade balance of nearly USD 200M, or about 25 percent of GDP.
The country’s largest export products are non-filet frozen fish, molluscs, scrap vessels, passenger and cargo ships, and high value agricultural products such as perfume plants, cocoa beans and sandalwood. Major imports include transportation, fuel (particularly refined petroleum and diesel), machinery, and foodstuffs. Major trading partners include China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, Thailand, as well as nearby Fiji.
This trade-dependent economic composition is not uncommon with island nations. The lack of natural resources and manufacturing available locally requires extensive importation of energy, machinery, household goods, and other high-value products and services. However, the limited existence of value-added industries suggests potential economic development opportunities, especially in Port Vila.
While median household income in Port Vila exceeds that in most other areas of Vanuatu, the city suffers from more significant inequality. The last economic census (2009) found that the lowest quintile of earners in Port Vila earned less than the lowest quintile in other parts of the country, despite much higher costs of living in urban areas. The median income per individual in Port Vila is estimated to be 37,600 vatu or approximately USD 352 per month. These figures have likely increased over the last 9 years, however, given structural economic dynamics have not significantly changed over that period, income distribution is likely to remain reasonable aligned with past findings.
Over a quarter of all households in Port Vila are either dependent on, or supported by, the direct sale of goods. The most common goods sold are found to be cash crops (most prominently kava), manufactured items (e.g. baskets), and fruits and vegetables. Direct sales are most often conducted by women and occur predominately in public markets, affirming the importance of markets to the local Port Vila economy. It should be noted that important analyses have been conducted by UN Women on how to effectively increase resilience to climate change through an examination and bolstering of market operations.