The delegation included director of immigration Kairangi Samuela and the foreign investment and compliance manager at the Business Trade Investment Board, Ria Arthur. The meeting discussed regional labour mobility priorities.
Held from November 14 to 17 at the Queensland University of Technology, the meeting attracted more than 85 delegates from Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, together with over 25 private sector employers and keynote speakers.
Allsworth said the purpose of the meeting was to provide a regular forum to discuss regional labour mobility priorities, including enhancing existing initiatives and exploring options for new areas of cooperation.
The meeting was highly relevant and important to the Cook Islands, he added.
“I found this meeting highly relevant and important as it shows that all Pacific Island countries (PICs), with the exception of the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, have surplus labour and have utilised the New Zealand ‘Toso-Vaka-O-Manu’ programme for seasonal workers and the Australian labour scheme programme,” Allsworth said.
“Due to the fact that we have a shortage of labour, our labour situation is completely different to the other PICs.
“We have a serious depopulation problem, added to a declining birth rate.
“Whilst other PICs are exporting labour, we are importing labour for our workforce requirements and market demands.”
Allsworth said the meeting had a high level of attendance and participation by high commissioners, ministers, heads of ministries and senior officials from the Pacific Islands countries.
This, he said, show they place labour mobility and economic development high on the agenda of governments in the region.
In his recommendations, Allsworth said the Cook Islands government should consider a variety of options in trying to tackle the labour shortage problem and constraints as it affected the medium the country’s long term economic development.
He said the government could engage with the New Zealand Aid and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to carry out a feasibility study of future labour requirements. The study should include dialogue with a wide array of domestic and regional development partners, he added.
“Target relevant key industries in New Zealand and Australia that could relocate, establish and implement joint venture operations in the Cook Islands, with added incentives and tax breaks. The creation of a ‘tax free zone’ similar to the Fiji experience. The aim is to create jobs and economic opportunities for Cook Islanders,” Allsworth suggested.
“As the vast majority of our foreign workers are in the hospitality and tourism sectors, we should explore other industries such as agriculture, fishing, health care and social services that will provide sustainable development and productive employment for Cook Islanders.”
Allsworth said there were no specific recommendations for the Cook Islands from the meeting.
He said the recommendations he had made were his personal observations from discussions with delegates and key economic and finance delegates such as the Fiji High Commissioner to Canberra, Yogesh Punja and the manager of Pacifica Labour and Skills - Immigration New Zealand, George Rarere.