New Zealand High Commission Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Relationship between New Zealand and Cook Islands

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 ending that dependency status and today the country is self-governing in free association with New Zealand.  Free association is a status distinct from that of full independence which allows the Cook Islands to maintain New Zealand citizenship while making its own laws and conducting its own affairs.  The most recent codification of the principles underpinning the partnership between New Zealand and the Cook Islands is set out in the Joint Centenary Declaration , signed by the Prime Ministers of both countries in 2001. 

The close bilateral relationship is cemented through strong people to people ties, including cultural and kinship ties between New Zealand and Cook Islands Māori people.  Approximately 62,000 Cook Island Māori now live in New Zealand (2013).  The two governments agreed to establish regular ministerial-level consultations to underline the special constitutional ties and progress matters of mutual interest.  The third Joint Ministerial Forum was held in February 2014 in Aitutaki.

In 2013 New Zealand’s total trade with the Cook Islands came to $98 million.  The vast bulk of that trade ($97 million) is comprised of New Zealand exports to the Cook Islands, with only $1 million exports from the Cook Islands to New Zealand in 2013.  Exports from the Cook Islands to New Zealand consist of fish, noni juice, pearls, clothes and agricultural goods, while New Zealand’s main exports to the Cook Islands are food, fuel, machinery, transport and equipment.

Tourism is vital to the Cook Islands economy and is estimated to account for around 60% of GDP.  However, its narrow economic base makes the Cook Islands vulnerable to external factors such as recessions in leading tourist markets, and natural disasters such as cyclones.  New Zealanders make up the majority of visitors to the Cook Islands at 67.5%.


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