Te Akaitiki: The Evolving Cook Islands-New Zealand Relationship

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

Introductory remarks at the address by Prime Minister Puna

New Zealand Institute of International Affairs

Legislative Council Chambers, Parliament



Te Akaitiki: The Evolving Cook Islands-New Zealand Relationship

Last week, it was a pleasure to introduce the Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato.  Today, from the other side of the Pacific, it’s a delight to introduce the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. 

The difference between those two countries in size, resources and historical relationship with New Zealand highlights the complexity of the challenge for how New Zealand engages in the Pacific.  

It’s that diversity, and the need to really understand the individual differences of each Pacific island country, which underpin our Pacific Reset.

You have heard our outline of the five principles New Zealand will follow to chart its regional diplomacy.

They are:

  • exhibiting friendship, including honesty, empathy, trust and respect;
  • demonstrating a depth of understanding of the Pacific, drawing on the expertise in both the region and New Zealand
  • striving for solutions of mutual benefit
  • pursuing collective ambition with Pacific partners and external actors
  • and seeking sustainability by focusing on the region’s long-term goals

With the Cook Islands, we have a unique connection which takes us beyond a simple country-to-country relationship. 

It goes beyond its formal status of self-governing in free association with New Zealand since 1965.

It goes beyond its status of a becoming a dependent territory of New Zealand in 1901.  It’s inspiring to remember that even in those days, such was the relationship with New Zealand, some five hundred Cook Islanders joined the New Zealand armed forces in World War One.

Before that, going back centuries to the great ocean voyages of discovery and settlement in New Zealand, we have the close links between language and cultures of both the Cook Islands and New Zealand Maori.

The fact that Cook Islanders are also New Zealand citizens underlines the special and unique nature of the relationship.

It has been a successful relationship. 

Over many years, New Zealand has actively supported the aspirations of the Cook Islands to have a voice in international processes and to provide its people with sustainable economic development. 

The Cook Islands now has diplomatic relations with well over forty countries.

Of special note, tourism, barely noticeable in 1965, now provides around 60% of GDP.

Such is the country’s economic performance, the Cook Islands is expected next year to graduate into the OECD High Income category.

Prime Minister, we have always been most welcome in your country during visits there.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her team were very warmly received during our visit last month. 

To mark our special relationship with the Cook Islands we announced changes to the pension portability arrangements which has been an outstanding issue between our two countries.

Under the change a person resident in the Cook Islands for five years after fifty years old will be recognised as if they were living in New Zealand.

This removes an unhelpful anomaly that incentivised Cook Islanders to return to New Zealand after the age of fifty.

This is a special opportunity, Prime Minister, to welcome you to New Zealand.  On Friday, we meet formally for the Joint Ministerial Forum at Waitangi, when we will discuss in depth a number of bilateral and regional issues.  

We will discuss them as equal partners, reflecting the maturity of the relationship.  

It is a relationship which has come a long way but continues to develop.

It is Te Akaitiki: the evolving Cook Islands-New Zealand relationship.