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Official Name - Cook Islands
Land Area - 240 sq km (comprising 15 islands)
Population - 14,974 (2011 resident)
Religion - Various Christian denominations
Capital City - Avarua, Rarotonga
Official Languages - Cook Islands Maori and English
Currency - New Zealand Dollar
EEZ - 1,830,000 sq km
Political system - Parliamentary democracy
National government - Cook Islands Party
National legislature - Unicameral Parliament, comprising 24 MPs, which sits for a four year term. Ten MPs are elected from the main island of Rarotonga and the other 14 represent outer islands. The current cabinet comprises six Ministers.
Last election - 17 November 2010
Next election - 2014
Head of State - Queen Elizabeth II. Sir Frederick Tutu Goodwin is the resident Queen’s Representative.
Head of Government - Prime Minister Hon Henry Puna
Deputy Prime Minister Hon Tom Marsters
Hon Mark Brown - Minister of Finance
Hon Teina Bishop - Minister of Education and Tourism
Hon Teariki Heather - Minister of Infrastructure and Planning and Police
Hon Nandi Glassie - Minister of Health and Agriculture
Key Opposition MPs
Wilkie Rasmussen, Leader of the Opposition
William ‘Smiley’ Heather
Main political parties
Cook Islands Party and Democratic Party
GDP - NZ$366 million (2011)
Real GDP growth (%) - 2.5% (2010/11)
Exports (fob) - $4 million (2011)
Main exports - Pearls, fish, fruit and maire
Imports (cif) -
$138 million (2011)
Main imports - Food, fuel, machines, transport and equipment
Inflation - 2.1% (2010/11)
Gross External Debt - $114.8 million (est to end 2010-11 FY)
NZ Exports (fob) -
NZ$96 million (June 2012)
Main Exports - Petroleum oils, food preparations, timber, meat products, beverages, tubes and hoses, motor vehicles.
NZ Imports (cif) -
NZ$1 (June 2012)
Main Imports - Food, fuel, machines, transport and equipment.
New Zealand and the Cook Islands have a special relationship founded on close historical ties, unique constitutional arrangements and a common citizenship and currency. The Cook Islands became a dependent territory of New Zealand in 1901 when it was annexed. In 1965 the Cook Islands adopted a Constitution enabling self-government in free association with New Zealand. Free association is a status distinct from that of full independence in that it allows the Cook Islands to maintain New Zealand citizenship, while administering its own affairs.
The bilateral relationship is cemented through strong people to people ties, with an estimated 58,000 (2006) Cook Islanders now living in New Zealand. The two governments agreed to establish regular ministerial-level consultations to underline the special constitutional ties and progress matters of mutual interest, such as economic development. The second Joint Ministerial Forum was held in February 2013.
The Cook Islands was settled in the 13th century by people from nearby islands, now part of French Polynesia, and from Samoa. The first recorded European to land on and survey the Cook Islands was Captain James Cook, between 1773 and 1777. Continuous European contact with the islands came with the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of representatives of the London Missionary Society. After a number of important Ariki (traditional leaders) were converted, support for Christianity spread throughout the Southern Group.
In 1888, acting on a petition from the principal Ariki, a Protectorate was declared over the Southern Group – then known as the Hervey Islands – by Britain. Protectorates were declared over several islands in the Northern Group in the early 1890s and the remaining islands were subsequently annexed.
On 27 September 1900, the New Zealand Parliament approved the annexation of the islands to New Zealand. From 11 June 1901 the boundaries of New Zealand were extended to include the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands was administered by New Zealand as a dependent territory from 1901 to 1965 when, following an act of self-determination under United Nations auspices, the Cook Islands became self-governing in free association with New Zealand.
The general election held in November 2010 saw a change of government with a decisive swing to the Cook Islands Party (CIP), which won 16 of the 24 seats. Prime Minister Puna’s tenure has been politically stable, in contrast to 2010 when Cook Islands politics was characterised by ministerial dismissals and resignations. However, as a result of by-elections, the CIP’s majority has reduced to four (CIP 14, Democratic Party 9, Independent 1).
The Cook Islands has a unicameral parliament with 24 elected members, and a parliamentary term of four years. There is full adult suffrage and while registration on the electoral roll for elections is compulsory, voting is not. There is also a 15-member House of Ariki (chiefs), which was established in 1966. It comprises six Ariki from Rarotonga and nine from the outer islands. The House of Ariki advises Government on customary and land use issues.
The Cook Islands is among the best performing Pacific economies, but faces increasing pressure over the sustainability of government debt levels. Its narrow economic base (underpinned by tourism and marine resources) makes it vulnerable to external shocks, including the global economic crisis. Threats to economic growth include environmental damage, infrastructure constraints, weak policy, limited planning and project preparation capacity, and a labour shortage. The economy is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, as demonstrated by the substantial damage caused by a series of cyclones in 2005 – and in Aitutaki in 2010 when Tropical Cyclone Pat caused significant damage to housing and public infrastructure. New Zealand provided a $6.4 million reconstruction package to assist the Cook Islands Government to implement its recovery and reconstruction plan for the island.
Gross Domestic Product per capita is high compared to other economies in the region. Tourism is vital to the Cook Islands economy and is estimated to account for around 75% of GDP, with some 115,000 tourists visiting each year.
In August 2009, Standard and Poor’s downgraded its outlook for Cook Islands from stable to negative, due to uncertainty about projected tourism numbers and a deteriorating debt position. The Cook Islands 2012-13 budget increased Government Debt (with loans from the ADB and China) to take the debt to GDP ratio to 33% in 2013/14 (in order to finance water and sanitation upgrades).
The marine sector, both the pearl industry and fishing, is a significant export earner although it has not performed to its potential, or to expectations. The pearl industry is important to the economic development of the remote northern islands and improvements in farming techniques should lead to an increase in export earnings from pearl farming.
Population loss remains a concern to the Cook Islands and is an economic risk. The 2011 figures put the resident population at 14,974. This is estimated to have continued to drop to 10,777 in 2012. The remote outer islands are experiencing a particularly marked decline: about 65% of the population now lives on the main island of Rarotonga. Cook Islanders (which is an ethnic identifier, not a legal one) can live in New Zealand and Australia due to their New Zealand citizenship. This exacerbates the rate of migration from the Cook Islands, particularly among young adults seeking education, training, experience and profitable work overseas. Labour shortages, particularly in the tourism sector, are being addressed through the employment of foreign workers, particularly from Fiji and the Philippines. Foreign workers are estimated to account for approximately 10% of the resident population.
The international legal personality of the Cook Islands has developed steadily since the Cook Islands became self-governing in 1965. The Cook Islands has diplomatic relations with more than 30 countries and maintains a diplomatic post in New Zealand. The Cook Islands is also a member, in its own right, of a range of international organisations, but it is not a member of the United Nations or Commonwealth. The Joint Centenary Declaration (2001) requires the Cook Islands and New Zealand to consult regularly on foreign affairs matters.
The Cook Islands has good air services. Air New Zealand operates daily flights into and out of Rarotonga from New Zealand as well as less frequent flights from Sydney and Los Angeles. Pacific Blue began flights from New Zealand to the Cook Islands in March 2005. Two shipping lines provide services between Auckland and Rarotonga, with one also servicing the Northern Group of Islands on demand.
New Zealand is responsible for the defence of the Cook Islands under the terms of the 1965 Constitution. In practice, however, this responsibility would only be acted upon at the request of the Cook Islands' Government. A Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP) is administered by the New Zealand Defence Force in collaboration with New Zealand Police. MAP assistance to the Cook Islands focuses on supporting Pacific Patrol Boat operations, small arms use and security, search and rescue, and the provision of a technical adviser to the Pacific Patrol Boat project.
The Cook Islands education system follows the Cook Islands curriculum and utilises the New Zealand Qualifications Framework for assessment and qualifications at senior secondary level and beyond. Education is compulsory for all children between 5 and 16 years of age. The Government provides free secular education at early childhood (from the age of 3), primary and secondary school levels. The Trade Training Centre and Hospitality and Tourism Training Centre provide tertiary training. The University of the South Pacific has an extension centre providing vocational, foundation and degree courses.
Cook Islanders have New Zealand citizenship and as such have free access into New Zealand.
An entry permit is not required by persons who are entering the Cook Islands as bona-fide visitors for a period of no more than 31 days. However, bona fide visitors travelling on a New Zealand passport are exempted from requiring an entry permit for any stay of no more than 90 days. Beyond these periods, an extension of stay must be obtained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration. Holders of visitor permits, including expatriate New Zealanders, are not allowed to work unless a work permit has been granted.
Over the period 2009-2012 New Zealand (and Australia under the harmonised programme) has contributed approximately $44 million of bilateral funding to the Cook Islands. Bilateral contributions from Australia are approximately AUD $2.2 million per annum. It is anticipated that New Zealand’s bilateral funding over the three years starting 2012/13 will total approximately $57 million, and total New Zealand development assistance over this period will be $83 million. Focus areas in the bilateral aid programme are economic growth and infrastructure (approx. $12 million per year), health and education (approx. $4 million per year) and governance (approx. $1.6 million per year). The Joint Commitment for Development, signed in July 2011 is the key document shaping the New Zealand Aid Programme in the Cook Islands going forward.
Tourism, estimated to account for around 75% of GDP, is vital to the Cook Islands economy. Visitor numbers in 2009/10 held up despite the global economic downturn, reaching an all-time annual high in 2012 of more than 121,000. New Zealanders make up the majority of visitors (67.5%). The introduction of low-cost airfares from New Zealand has significantly increased tourist volumes. The Cook Islands Government has revamped Cook Islands Tourism branding and intentionally focused on the Australian and Northern Hemisphere markets.
The Cook Islands has entered into a wide range of bilateral and multilateral treaties in its own name and is a member of a number of regional and international organisations. The Cook Islands is a member in its own right of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It is also a member of regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and its agencies, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. In August 2012, the Cook Islands hosted the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum, and assumed the Chair for the year 2012-13 (from New Zealand). The Cook Islands last hosted the Forum in 1997.
The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Cook Islands [external link].
Enquiries may be directed to Consular Division at the following numbers: Phone: +64 4 439 8000; Fax: +64 4 439 8515.