Puna welcomed the New Zealand government’s foreign policy “re-set” including a new, re-energised Pacific strategy which acknowledged New Zealand’s place in the Pacific.
“My Cabinet and I were most heartened by our recent discussions with prime minister Ardern, deputy prime minister Winston Peters and delegation which demonstrated a commitment to engage with the Cook Islands and the region in a genuine partnership of friendship and mutual benefit with collective ambitions to achieve sustainable results for our Pacific peoples,” said Puna.
During the visit, it was acknowledged that advances in the Cook Islands economy in recent years were a positive indication of successful national development.
Those advances were enabled by investments in infrastructure and human resources, with support from New Zealand and other development partners, accompanied by strengthened governance and stable leadership, Puna said.
“We welcome New Zealand’s re-energised approach to the Pacific which recognises the advances in our economies, but is cognisant of the scale of the challenges we’re confronted with as vulnerable island states.
“New Zealand’s foreign policy reset will, we believe, support our individual and regional long-term development goals and amplify our advocacy on the global stage on issues critical to our region, whether on climate change, security, resilience or development.”
The highlight of Ardern’s visit was a handover ceremony for the recently-completed Technology Centre and the Student Research and Administration building at Tereora College.
The ceremony marked completion of Phase 1 of the Tereora College Redevelopment Project.
The Cook Islands conceived, designed and built facilities, funded by New Zealand, were a gift from the New Zealand government to the Cook Islands, announced in 2015 to mark 50 years of the Cook Islands self-governing in free association with New Zealand.
The announcement by prime minister Ardern of the coming into effect by January 2019 of changes to pension portability were also welcomed by PM Puna and Cook Islanders in the Cook Islands and New Zealand.
“This has been a long time coming with some concerted advocacy over the last five years,” said Puna who acknowledged both the current, and most recent former governments for their contributions to bringing this to fruition. The change, which is limited to people from countries of the realm (the Cook Islands, New Zealand and Tokelau) is expected will to encourage Cook Islanders to return to the Cook Islands to pursue business and work opportunities in the years ahead. Puna also welcomed Ardern’s commitment to the special relationship and the certainty it provides as the Cook Islands manages its economic, social, political and environmental vulnerabilities in the face of overseas development assistance graduation and climate change.
Both governments will revisit discussions next month in New Zealand, where New Zealand will host the annual Joint Ministerial Forum (JMF).
In line with New Zealand’s foreign policy reset for the Pacific, it is expected discussions will enable an evolved agenda on bilateral and multilateral issues which will support the separate and shared development aspirations of both countries.