Tokelau - TK - TKL - Australia and Oceania

Last updated: March 20, 2024
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Tokelau Factbook Data

Dependency status

self-administering territory of New Zealand; note - Tokelau and New Zealand have agreed to a draft constitution as Tokelau moves toward free association with New Zealand; a UN-sponsored referendum on self governance in October 2007 did not meet the two-thirds majority vote necessary for changing the political status

Diplomatic representation from the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Geographic coordinates

9 00 S, 172 00 W

Sex ratio

NA

Natural hazards

lies in Pacific cyclone belt

Area - comparative

about 17 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Background

Tokelau, which comprises three atolls, was first settled by Polynesians around A.D. 1000. The three atolls operated relatively independently but had contact with one another, intermarrying and occasionally fighting wars. Fakaofo Atoll eventually subjugated the other two. British explorer John BYRON was the first European to see Atafu Atoll in 1765. British naval officer Edward EDWARDS saw Nukunonu Atoll in 1791, and ships occasionally continued to pass by Atafu and Nukunonu. In 1835, a US whaling ship became the first non-Pacific island ship to pass by Fakaofo. Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived in 1845 and converted the population on the islands on which they landed. To this day, Nukunonu is predominantly Catholic while Atafu is mostly Protestant; Catholic and Protestant missionaries both worked in Fakaofo, and the population there is more mixed.

In 1863, Peruvian slave traders, masquerading as missionaries, kidnapped nearly all the men from Tokelau, and local governance moved to a system based on a Council of Elders, which still exists today. The atolls were repopulated when new Polynesian settlers and American and European migrants intermarried with local Tokelauan women. Tokelau became a British protectorate in 1889 and included in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate - later a colony - in 1908. In 1925, the UK placed Tokelau under New Zealand administration. The Tokelau Islands Act of 1948 formally transferred sovereignty from the UK to New Zealand and Tokelauans were granted New Zealand citizenship. In 1979, the US relinquished its claims over Tokelau in the Treaty of Tokehega, and Tokelau relinquished its claims over Swains Island, which is part of American Samoa.

Economic opportunities in Tokelau are sparse, and about 80% of Tokelauans live in New Zealand. Tokelau held two self-governance referendums in 2006 and 2007, in which more than 60% of voters chose to go into free association with New Zealand; however, the referendums failed to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to enact a status change. Tokelau lacks an airport and is only accessible via a day-long boat trip from Samoa, although a site for an airstrip on Nukunonu was selected in 2019. Because of its dependency on Samoa for transportation, in 2011, Tokelau followed Samoa’s lead and shifted the international date line to its east, skipping December 30 and becoming one hour ahead of New Zealand rather than 23 hours behind.


Environment - current issues

overexploitation of certain fish and other marine species, coastal sand, and forest resources; pollution of freshwater lenses and coastal waters from improper disposal of chemicals

Population below poverty line

NA

Exports - commodities

oscilloscopes, house linens, fruits, nuts, recreational boats, iron products (2019)

Administrative divisions

none (territory of New Zealand)

Agricultural products

coconuts, roots/tubers, tropical fruit, pork, bananas, eggs, poultry, pig offals, pig fat, fruit

Budget

revenues: $24,324,473 (2017 est.)

expenditures: $11,666,542 (2017 est.)

Capital

time difference: UTC+13 (18 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)

note: there is no designated, official capital for Tokelau; the location of the capital rotates among the three atolls along with the head of government or Ulu o Tokelau

Imports - commodities

oscilloscopes, integrated circuits, refined petroleum, packaged medicines, orthopedic appliances (2019)

Climate

tropical; moderated by trade winds (April to November)

Coastline

101 km

Constitution

history: many previous; latest effective 1 January 1949 (Tokelau Islands Act 1948)

amendments: proposed as a resolution by the General Fono; passage requires support by each village and approval by the General Fono; amended several times, last in 2007

Exchange rates

New Zealand dollars (NZD) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
1.543 (2017 est.)

Executive branch

chief of state: King CHARLES III (since 8 September 2022); represented by Governor-General of New Zealand Dame Cindy KIRO (since 21 September 2021); New Zealand is represented by Administrator Don HIGGINS (since June 2022)

head of government: (Ulu o Tokelau) Kelihiano KALOLO (since 6 March 2023); note - position rotates annually among the three Faipule (village leaders) of the atolls

cabinet: Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau (or Tokelau Council) functions as a cabinet; consists of 3 village leaders (Faipule) and 3 village mayors (Pulenuku)

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; administrator appointed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade in New Zealand; head of government chosen from the Council of Faipule to serve a 1-year term

note: the meeting place of the Tokelau Council rotates annually among the three atolls; this tradition has given rise to the somewhat misleading description that the capital rotates yearly between the three atolls; in actuality, it is the seat of the government councilors that rotates since Tokelau has no capital

Fiscal year

1 April - 31 March

Flag description

a yellow stylized Tokelauan canoe on a dark blue field sails toward the manu - the Southern Cross constellation of four, white, five-pointed stars at the hoist side; the Southern Cross represents the role of Christianity in Tokelauan culture and, in conjunction with the canoe, symbolizes the country navigating into the future; the color yellow indicates happiness and peace, and the blue field represents the ocean on which the community relies

Independence

none (territory of New Zealand)

Industries

small-scale enterprises for copra production, woodworking, plaited craft goods; stamps, coins; fishing

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Court of Appeal (in New Zealand) (consists of the court president and 8 judges sitting in 3- or 5-judge panels, depending on the case)

judge selection and term of office: judges nominated by the Judicial Selection Committee and approved by three-quarters majority of the Parliament; judges serve for life

subordinate courts: High Court (in New Zealand); Council of Elders or Taupulega

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Land use

agricultural land: 60% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 60% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0% (2018 est.)

forest: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 40% (2018 est.)

Legal system

common law system of New Zealand

Legislative branch

description: unicameral General Fono (20 seats apportioned by island - Atafu 7, Fakaofo 7, Nukunonu 6; members directly elected by simple majority vote to serve 3-year terms); note - the Tokelau Amendment Act of 1996 confers limited legislative power to the General Fono

elections: last held on 26 January 2023 depending on island (next to be held in January 2026)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - independent 20; composition - men 17, women 3, percent of women 15%

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

International organization participation

PIF (associate member), SPC, UNESCO (associate), UPU

National holiday

Waitangi Day (Treaty of Waitangi established British sovereignty over New Zealand), 6 February (1840)

Nationality

noun: Tokelauan(s)

adjective: Tokelauan

Natural resources

Fisheries

Geography - note

consists of three atolls (Atafu, Fakaofo, Nukunonu), each with a lagoon surrounded by a number of reef-bound islets of varying length and rising to over 3 m above sea level

Economic overview

small New Zealand territorial island economy; labor force can work in New Zealand or Australia; significant remittances; largely solar-powered infrastructure; reliant on New Zealand funding; stamp, coin, and crafts producer

Political parties and leaders

none

Ports and terminals

none; offshore anchorage only

Suffrage

21 years of age; universal

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: a new submarine cable between New Zealand and Tokelau will provide high speed, reliable internet to Tokelau for the first time; due for completion in 2022, this will provide Tokelau with affordable, high quality internet and telecommunications, and better, more effective access to digital services and platforms (2021)

domestic: fixed-line teledensity is 0 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 690; landing point for the Southern Cross NEXT submarine cable linking Australia, Tokelau, Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji, New Zealand and Los Angeles, CA (USA); radiotelephone service to Samoa; government-regulated telephone service (TeleTok); satellite earth stations - 3 (2020)

Terrain

low-lying coral atolls enclosing large lagoons

Government type

parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy


Military - note

defense is the responsibility of New Zealand

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Tokelau

former: Union Islands, Tokelau Islands

etymology: "tokelau" is a Polynesian word meaning "north wind"

Location

Oceania, group of three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand

Map references

Oceania

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2022)

Diplomatic representation in the US

none (territory of New Zealand)

Internet country code

.tk

GDP (official exchange rate)

$12.658 million (2017 est.)

note: data uses New Zealand Dollar (NZD) as the currency of exchange.

Urbanization

urban population: 0% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 0% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Broadcast media

Sky TV access for around 30% of the population; each atoll operates a radio service that provides shipping news and weather reports (2019)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 99.7% of population

total: 99.7% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 0.3% of population

total: 0.3% of population (2020 est.)

National anthem

name: "Te Atua" (For the Almighty)

lyrics/music: unknown/Falani KALOLO

note: adopted 2008; in preparation for eventual self governance, Tokelau held a national contest to choose an anthem; as a territory of New Zealand, in addition to "God Defend New Zealand," "God Save the King" serves as a royal anthem (see United Kingdom); "God Save the King" normally played only when a member of the royal family or the governor-general is present; in all other cases, "God Defend New Zealand" is played (see New Zealand)

Physicians density

NA

National symbol(s)

tuluma (fishing tackle box); national colors: blue, yellow, white

Citizenship

see New Zealand

Population distribution

the country's small population is fairly evenly distributed amongst the three atolls

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: NA

rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2020 est.)

Ethnic groups

Tokelauan 64.5%, part Tokelauan/Samoan 9.7%, part Tokelauan/Tuvaluan 2.8%, Tuvaluan 7.5%, Samoan 5.8%, other Pacific Islander 3.4%, other 5.6%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)

Religions

Congregational Christian Church 50.4%, Roman Catholic 38.7%, Presbyterian 5.9%, other Christian 4.2%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 est.)

Languages

Tokelauan 88.1% (a Polynesian language), English 48.6%, Samoan 26.7%, Tuvaluan 11.2%, Kiribati 1.5%, other 2.8%, none 2.8%, unspecified 0.8% (2016 ests.)

note: shares sum to more than 100% because some respondents gave more than one answer on the census

Disputes - international

Tokelau-American Samoa (US): Tokelau included American Samoa's Swains Island (Olosega) in its 2006 draft independence constitution; Swains Island has been administered by American Samoa since 1925; the 1980 Treaty of Tokehega delineates the maritime boundary between American Samoa and Tokelau; while not specifically mentioning Swains Island, the treaty notes in its preamble that New Zealand does not claim as part of Tokelau any island administered as part of American Samoa


Elevation

highest point: unnamed location 5 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-64 years: NA

65 years and over: NA

Contraceptive prevalence rate

NA

Current health expenditure

NA

Literacy

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 60.4

youth dependency ratio: 47

elderly dependency ratio: 13.4

potential support ratio: 7.5 (2021)

Imports - partners

Samoa 35%, Ireland 17%, Philippines 14%, Malaysia 13%, South Africa 9% (2019)

Exports - partners

Singapore 25%, France 19%, South Africa 7%, New Zealand 5%, United States 5%, Ireland 5% (2019)

Total renewable water resources

0 cubic meters (2017 est.)

Currently married women (ages 15-49)

52% (2023 est.)

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 0.4%

women married by age 18: 10.1%

men married by age 18: 2.8% (2019 est.)

Labor force

1,100 (2019 est.)

Net migration rate

-3.84 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

Total fertility rate

(2021 est.) NA

Unemployment rate

2% (2015 est.)

note: Underemployment may be as high as 6.6%

Population

1,647 (2019 est.)

Internet users

total: 800 (2021 est.)

percent of population: 58.3% (2021 est.)

Area

total: 12 sq km

land: 12 sq km

water: 0 sq km

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$7,711,583 (2017 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars.

Roadways

total: 10 km (2019)

Infant mortality rate

total: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

4% (2020 est.)
2.5% (2019 est.)
11% (2017 est.)

note: Tokelau notes that its wide inflation swings are due almost entirely due to cigarette prices, a chief import.

Real GDP per capita

$6,004 (2017 est.)
$4,855 (2016 est.)
$4,292 (2015 est.)

note: data are in 2017 dollars

Death rate

(2021 est.)

Birth rate

NA

Children under the age of 5 years underweight

NA

Imports

$15,792,720 (2015 est.)

Exports

$103,000 (2015 est.)
$102,826 (2002 est.)

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 300 (2010 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 22 (2010 est.)

Life expectancy at birth

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Real GDP growth rate

NA

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: NA

industry: NA

services: NA

Education expenditures

NA

Population growth rate

-0.01% (2019 est.)