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Our relationship with Tonga

New Zealand and Tonga share strong ties based on our common Polynesian history and shared interests in Pacific issues. We have a growing trading relationship and are both PACER Plus signatories.  We also cooperate in policing, defence, climate change initiatives and sustainable development.

Tonga is north of New Zealand near Fiji and Samoa. It’s made up of 170 islands with a land area of 748 square kilometres, spread over a 676,079 square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The 36 inhabited islands support a population of over 100,000. About 75 percent of the people live on the main island of Tongatapu, and the rest are spread across the four island groups of Vava'u, Ha'apai, ‘Eua and the Niuas.

Tonga is the only Pacific country with a constitutional monarchy - officially it is known as the Kingdom of Tonga.  The country made an historic and fundamental change from an executive monarchy to a modern parliamentary democracry in 2010, holding its first fully democratic elections in November that year.

More than 60,000 Tongans live in New Zealand - it is our third largest Pacific Island group.  Many Tongan leaders have been educated in New Zealand and keep up connections here.  Up to 250 Tongans can immigrate to New Zealand each year through the Pacific Access immigration stream, in addition to other immigration streams.


Vital Statistics
Population 100,000 (2016)
Age under 24 years 54%
Average life expectancy 71/76
Literacy 99%
Imports NZ$287.4m
Exports NZ$21.2m
Remittances 20.3% GDP
Foreign Aid US$16.3m
GDP US$395m (2016 World Bank)
GDP per capita US$3,689
GDP growth 3.5% (2016)


Trade and Economic Links

Tonga has a small export economy based around exports of fish and agricultural products, as well as tourism.  Remittances are also a significant source of foreign revenue as is the income earned through the 1,800 workers that take part in New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme each year.

The World Bank has rated Tonga as number 89 globally in the ease of doing business (for 2016).  New Zealand and Tonga have good shipping links, and New Zealand is Tonga's main source of imports.  Both countries are working toward growing the trade relationship; the Tonga-New Zealand Business Association in Nuku'alofa and the New Zealand Tonga Business Council in Auckland both promote bilateral trade and business links.

Growth is constrained by Tonga's small domestic market, work skill shortages, and high costs of doing business.

Tonga is the depository of PACER Plus, a landmark trade and development agreement that will improve prosperity and resilience in the Pacific region.  PACER Plus will contribute to a more predictable trading environment for businesses across the Pacific, increase opportunites for inward investment, and support increased skills development and employment.


2016 statistics

Exports to Tonga

$78.5 million 

Top NZ exports: wood products, machinery, dairy and meat

Imports from Tonga

$2.7 million

Top imports: vegetables, nuts, fruit, fish

Defence and policing

 Tonga is New Zealand’s key defence partner in Polynesia, dating back to World War I, when Tongan citizens served in the Māori and Regular Battalions in the New Zealand Army. More recently we both took part in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Under the Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP), the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) helps train His Majesty’s Armed Forces, and a New Zealand Army Warrant Officer works in Tonga as a technical adviser. In May 2013, a Visiting Forces Agreement was signed to formalise NZDF operations and exercises in Tonga. The NZDF also helps with disaster response, such as search and rescue operations and delivering emergency supplies.

New Zealand supports policing in Tonga through the Tonga Police Development Programme, established in 2008. The programme focuses on community engagement, strengthening core policing skills and systems, improving leadership, organisational development and infrastructure.

Development Partnership with Tonga

Find out more about our aid programme in Tonga



Recent official visits

New Zealand to Tonga
  • June 2017: Prime Minister Bill English made a bilateral visit as part of the Pacific Mission
  • May 2017: Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerry Brownlee made a bilateral visit to Tonga
  • July 2016: Rear Admiral John Martin, Chief of New Zealand Navy, made a bilateral visit, along with HMNZS Otago
  • March 2016: Major General Peter Kelly, Chief of New Zealand Army, made a bilateral visit
Tonga to New Zealand
  • May 2017: Sovaleni led e-government study tour to New Zealand
  • November 2016: Tongan patrol boat VOEA PANGAI attended the New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary celebrations
  • July 2016: Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva made an official visit to New Zealand, accompanied by Minister for Customs and Revenue Tevita Lavemaau and Minister for Public Enterprises Poasi Tei
  • June 2016: Siaosi Sovaleni, Deputy Prime Minister, visited New Zealand for the Pacific Energy Conference

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