Due to his active role in managing Samoa's economy, the new prime minister has yet to establish a specific foreign policy distinct from that of his predecessor. He is expected to continue efforts to attract funds from overseas donor countries for needed projects. Japan has been the most generous donor in the past. In 1998, the national university opened a new physical plant built with Japanese funds. Whether such generosity would survive the Asian economic crisis was not clear. It may be necessary to seek new international ties to ensure assistance for continued development.
Samoa is certain to continue its active role in the preeminent Pacific Islands regional organization, the South Pacific Forum. Together with Tonga, the nation represents a counter-weight to the Melanesian nation-states like Papua New Guinea and the smaller island countries like Tuvalu. Like other forum members, Samoa is concerned with environmental and security issues, such as nuclear testing and forestry and fishery management. What Tuilaepa Sailele is likely to add to international relations is a concern for mutually profitable economic relations with Pacific Island neighbors. One such example is the import of coconuts from Tonga for processing in Samoa's mill for manufacturing dried coconut products.
With the June 2000 implementation of new laws designed to improve the oversight of Samoa's financial markets and tax haven operations, the international Financial Action Task Force took Samoa off its list of countries vulnerable to money laundering.
The Samoan government is generally conservative and pro-Western. Since 1962, Samoa has maintained a Treaty of Friendship with New Zealand. The treaty provides a framework for interaction between the two nations and allows New Zealand to act as a channel of communication between Samoa and governments and international organizations outside the immediate area of the Pacific Islands. Samoa also can request defense assistance, which New Zealand is required to consider (since Samoa does not maintain a formal military). New Zealand is Samoa's principal trading partner. In a gesture of friendly relations, in June 2002, New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clark issued an apology to Samoans for injustices inflicted upon them during the years (1919–62) when New Zealand ruled the country.
Samoa receives large portions of financial assistance from abroad. More than 60,000 Samoans who live overseas provide two sources of revenue. Their direct remittances have amounted to $40 million per year recently and they account for more than half of all tourist visits. In addition to the expatriate community, Samoa also receives roughly $25 million annually in official development assistance from sources led by Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
Samoa participated in a first round of negotiations with its Pacific Island neighbors for a regional trade agreement in August 2000.
In March 2003, against the backdrop of a looming war in Iraq led by the United States and the United Kingdom, Tuilaepa Sailele expressed his strong support for a peace march to be held in Apia, and delivered the keynote address to the protesters at the end of the march.