Samoa goes back to the future with dateline change

Samoa has announced it will switch timezones so it falls to the west of the international dateline, bringing the Pacific country's clocks closer to major trading partners in Australasia.

Samoa currently sits to the east of the dateline - which runs through the middle of the Pacific - meaning that it is 11 hours behind GMT and is one of the last places on Earth to see out the day.

Under the change, to be introduced on December 29 this year, it will be among the first of the world's countries to greet the dawn, with timezones closely aligned to Australia and New Zealand.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the reform would make it easier to do business with Samoa's biggest trading partners, both of which are also home to large expatriate Samoan communities.

"In doing business with New Zealand and Australia, we're losing out on two working days a week," he told the government newspaper Sivali.

"While it's Friday here, it's Saturday in New Zealand and when we're at church Sunday, they're already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane."

At the moment, the time difference puts Samoa 21 hours behind eastern Australia and 23 behind New Zealand. After December 29, it would be be one hour ahead of Wellington and three ahead of Sydney.

Tuilaepa said the change would reverse a decision made almost 120 years ago to move to the east of the international dateline because most of Samoa's trade at the time was with the United States and Europe.

"Our trading partners have dramatically changed since and today we do a lot more business with New Zealand and Australia, China and Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore," the prime minister said.

He said the shift offered a potential tourism boon for Samoa, as neighbouring American Samoa would remain on the other side of the dateline.

Tuilaepa said this meant visitors could spend their birthday in Samoa, then cross the international dateline to American Samoa and do it all over again.

"So you can have two birthdays, two weddings and two wedding anniversaries on the same date - on separate days - in less than an hour's flight across - without leaving the Samoan chain," he said.

"We are looking forward to working with American Samoa on capitalising on the sort of tourism this change could garner."

Tuilaepa has already introduced changes to bring Samoa into line with Australia and New Zealand, enacting a law in 2009 that meant cars switched to driving on the left-hand side of the road, rather than the right.

He said at the time that the change make it easier for the 170,000 Samoans living in Australia and New Zealand to send used cars back home to their relatives.

The most recent dateline change was enacted by Kiribati, which switched timezones to the west in 1995 to avoid different parts of its territory straddling the dateline, meaning they were on different days.

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