Ardern, who became New Zealand’s 40th prime minister in October last year, will be accompanied by a high powered delegation to the Cook Islands in her first official visit to the country.
Puna, while responding to a question posed by Opposition MP Tangata Vavia in Parliament yesterday, said her visit would provide them with an opportunity to build on the special relationship that currently exists between the two countries.
In December last year, Puna and finance minister Mark Brown held a bilateral meeting with Ardern and New Zealand’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters in Wellington. The meeting was the first for Ardern with a Pacific leader since taking the top job.
During the one-hour interaction, the two leaders discussed a range of issues including development co-operation, pension portability and abatement, and regional issues.
During the question and answer session in Parliament yesterday, Vavia asked Puna what he meant by “upgrading their relationship” with New Zealand when he spoke at the Waitangi Day celebration on Tuesday last week.
The prime minister said he spoke about the long history between the Cook Islands people and the New Zealand Maori people in his speech at the event held at Ngatipa.
“I wanted to leave nobody in doubt that this government and this country values its relationship with New Zealand very, very highly and our respect to our relationship goes back a long, long way,” Puna said.
“I believe it doesn’t matter who is in government in this country, that relationship will always be valued.
“Like any relationship, it needs to be reviewed, revitalised, and reenergised from time to time and that’s what this government has always done since we became government in 2010.”
Puna said there might have been some disagreement about issues between the two countries but it had never affected their special relationship.
He said the bond between the two countries had evolved in ways that have been instrumental in elevating their relationship to new levels.
“We must always resolve to remind New Zealand of how we feel about this special relationship and I believe we have done that, not just through formal channels but also through establishing friendships with key players in the New Zealand government.
“What has impressed me the most is the fact it doesn’t matter who is in government in Wellington, that feeling of respect and mutuality is always reciprocated.”
Cook Islands is a self-governing nation in “free association” with New Zealand.