Vanuatu's economy has developed vigorously in recent years, with a steady growth momentum overall. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased to 917 million USD in 2019 from 113 million USD in the early 1980s, when the country became independent. Moreover, the Key Economic Indicators in Vanuatu are operating smoothly, as the inflation rate has been kept within the target range.
According to the Half Yearly Economic and Fiscal Report released on August 15, 2020 by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management of Vanuatu, the actual GDP growth rate of the country can still be maintained at 0.6% this year despite the combined effects of COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Harold, and the volcanic ash dump.
It was an ecstatic moment as Bob Loughman Weibur, the newly elected Prime Minister, officially announced that Vanuatu will fulfill the eligibility requirements to graduate from "Least Developed Country" to "Developing Country" status by December 4 this year, through the joint efforts of the Vanuatu government and its people.
In addition to the considerable economic progress, Vanuatu also enhanced its tourism business to the next level. On the basis of an exceptional natural environment, the Vanuatu government concretized its environmental awareness by enacting strict laws to protect the reputation as "the last pure land" on the planet.
The Harshest Plastic Ban
Public data suggests that more than 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans every year, which affects marine biology, fishery, tourism and other industries to a large extent, and causes economic losses of 8 billion USD. Non-degradable plastic waste has been a huge sustainability challenge to the world for a long time, by causing a waste of resources and energy, as well as by polluting the ecological environment. It can turn to microplastics and disturb the marine food chain in the forms of fragment or granule, then get into our diet, and threaten human health with the toxic and harmful substances adsorbed in the ocean.
The Vanuatu government has demonstrated effective enforcement to combat the plastic waste pollution which damaged its original ecology. A severe punishment mechanism was triggered by the government since 2018 when Vanuatu imposed a plastic ban. Anyone who defies the ban faces a fine between 175 to 900 USD for every single banned plastic product that was used. Considering the average national income per adult of Vanuatu, such fines are astronomical to the ban defiers.
Living under this "harshest plastic ban", plastic alternatives become popular among Vanuatu people. Vendors use traditional net bags to pack vegetables and fruits in farmers' markets; people bring environmentally friendly shopping bags with them to supermarkets; hand-woven bamboo vessels are utilized to stock food. Furthermore, the plastic ban has greatly raised people's environmental awareness. Many students and citizens volunteered to pick up rubbish in public places and parks, carrying yellow garbage bags provided by the Vanuatu government.
Sustainable Tourism Development
Vanuatu boasts a beautiful landscape without any traces of modern industrial pollution, which drew countless tourists from all over the world to take in-depth tours here. Tourism, as a key driving force for Vanuatu's economic growth, has become the main source of employment and government revenue. A review of public data suggests that tourism contributes nearly 40% of Vanuatu's GDP and more than half of its total exports' revenue.
In recent years, the Vanuatu government has been committed to promoting economic development and improving people's livelihood, with particular emphasis on encouraging foreign investment. The primary purposes are developing private enterprises, increasing employment opportunities, earning foreign exchange through exports, and boosting government revenue.
Facing the contradiction between the steady growth of foreign investment and the protection of an original ecological environment without pollution, Vanuatu adheres to the bottom line of preserving the natural environment by trying to complement ecological protection with eco-tourism development. The Vanuatu government also firmly expressed its position by introducing the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act, along with a strict screening process for foreign investment projects.
The act requires an environmental impact assessment for the investment projects that may exert a negative impact on the environment, society or customs. This assessment is detailed enough to determine whether the designated projects are likely to cause landform or river-channel changes, or whether they will harm coral reefs, etc. A preliminary environmental assessment will be applied by the Vanuatu Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation (DEPC) to all projects after getting investment permits from government agencies, such as the Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency.
After the preliminary assessment, the DEPC may require a comprehensive assessment for some of the projects, and the investors or contractors are obliged to cooperate with the third-party agency designated by the DEPC to conduct the assessment. If a project failed both assessments, it must be revised to meet the environmental protection regulations, in accordance with the requirements of the Vanuatu government, until the assessments are passed.
Tourism features are essential to capture and retain tourists, and build the competitiveness of tourism products at the same time. Vanuatu attracts a steady stream of tourists from all over the world due to its original ecological tourism resources and beautiful natural scenery. As a result of the self-conscious efforts of the Vanuatu people to protect the environment, plus with strict environmental protection laws, the original ecological environment of Vanuatu has produced huge ecological, economic and social benefits, and realized the sustainable development of high-quality tourism.
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