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Our relationship with the Cook Islands

New Zealand and the Cook Islands share a close and unique relationship. The Cook Islands became a New Zealand colony in 1901 but after a push for self-determination in the 1960s it became self-governing in ‘free association’ with New Zealand in 1965. This means it administers its own affairs but that Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens who are free to live and work here. More than 60,000 Cook Island Māori live in New Zealand.

The Cook Islands has its own education system, yet secondary students sit New Zealand qualifications. We also share the same currency – the New Zealand dollar. New Zealand has responsibility for Cook Islands' defence (if called on) and some aspects of their foreign affairs.

Joint Centenary Declaration

In 2001 our two countries signed an agreement reaffirming our relationship – the Joint Centenary Declaration of the Principles of the Relationship between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Under the declaration our two governments hold ministerial-level meetings to reinforce our constitutional relationship and discuss matters of mutual interest such as economic development and foreign affairs. The third Joint Ministerial Forum was held in February 2014 in Aitutaki.

Read the full text of the Joint Centenary Declaration [PDF, 218 KB].


‘Big ocean, small islands’ describes the widely dispersed 15 islands with a total land area of 240 square kilometres and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of almost two million square kilometres. Roughly 70% of the 15,000 population live on the island of Rarotonga.


2015 statistics

Total trade in goods 

$ 98.43 million


Exports to Cook Islands

$ 98.17 million 

Top exports: fuel, food, machinery, transport and equipment

Imports from Cook Islands

$ 0.26 million

Top imports: pearls, fruit and vegetables, machinery, iron and steel
Tourism is the Cook Islands' biggest export earner.
Tourism is the Cook Islands' biggest export earner.

The bulk of goods traded between our two countries is exports from New Zealand to the Cook Islands.

Tourism is the Cook Islands' biggest export earner, making up about 60% of its GDP. More than 122,000 people visit the Cook Islands every year, with Kiwis making up more than half of these visitor numbers.

The Cook Islands' fisheries sector is a significant earner, although yet to perform to its potential or to expectations. 


The New Zealand Aid Programme works with  the Cook Islands to upgrade its infrastructure, grow sustainable tourism, and support initiatives that strengthen the public sector and improve education, health and social services.

Find out more about our aid programme in the Cook Islands


Recent official visits

New Zealand to Cook Islands
  • March 2016: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully visited the Cook Islands for the annual Cook Islands - New Zealand Joint Ministerial Forum
  • August 2015: Prime Minister Key led a delegation of Ministers, MPs and New Zealand based Cook Islands community leaders to celebrate the Cook Islands' 50 year anniversary of self-governance
  • May 2015: Foreign Minister Murray McCully, Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development Shane Jones, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and the Labour Party's Foreign Affairs Spokesperson David Shearer visited for bilateral discussions and to open solar-powered projects
  • May 2014: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully attended the Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders' Meeting on the Pacific Plan on behalf of Prime Minister Key
  • April 2014: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully visited the Cook Islands during the Pacific Energy Mission along with EU Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs
  • February 2014: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully attended the third Joint Ministerial Forum in Aitutaki
  • 2012: Prime Minister John Key, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and a New Zealand delegation attended the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga
  • 2011: Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully travelled to the Cook Islands for the Joint Ministerial Forum
Cook Islands to New Zealand
  • November 2016: Albert Nicholas, Minister for Internal Affairs and Sport, represented the Cook Islands at the Pacific Parliamentary Forum
  • August 2015: Prime Minister Henry Puna attended celebrations marking 50 years of the special bilateral relationship
  • 2013: Prime Minister Henry Puna, Finance Minister Mark Brown and Education and Fisheries Minister Teina Bishop attended the Joint Ministerial Forum in Queenstown
  • June 2012: Prime Minister Henry Puna came to New Zealand to attend the EU-PIF Troika
  • March 2012: Finance Minister Mark Brown visited Wellington
  • 2011: Prime Minister Henry Puna attended the Pacific Island Forum in Auckland and Rugby World Cup

News & Events

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