Cook Islands government has raised the question of debt relief with Australia, saying it is spending money servicing international loans that is needed for critical economic recovery initiatives.
The impact of Covid-19 on the economy and tourism sectors were the hot topics of a phone conversation between Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown and Australia’s trade minister.
Simon Birmingham had appreciated the briefing on the challenges faced by the island nation, Brown said.
Brown reminded the Australian minister of a call last week by Pacific Forum Economic Ministers, for development partners to provide debt relief and flexibility in financing.
This would enable Cook Islands and other island countries to address the extensive problems posed by Covid-19, he argued.
Such relief would free up considerable financial resources to support critical economic recovery initiatives that would otherwise go to satisfying debt servicing commitments
And of course, Cook Islands still had to grapple with climate change impacts and the risk of natural disasters.
Given the increasingly close relationship with Australia and its support for Cook Islands’ development aspirations, Brown said the two countries were due a good talk about recent events – and how they might cooperate in the future.
The two ministers also discussed Cook Islands’ progress towards ratifying the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (Pacer) Plus agreement between Australia, New Zealand and Pacific island nations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration is leading Cook Islands’ work on Pacer Plus, and plans to discuss it with key government agencies, the business community and civil society next month.
“Pacer Plus is an important tool as we move to diversify and strengthen our economy, a crucial component to the overall recovery and transformation of our economy,” Brown said.
“Trade-related assistance that will become available under that agreement will greatly assist us in the months ahead to take advantage of trade opportunities that are opening up through Pacer Plus.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration will continue to progress discussions with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade mostly through the Australian High Commission in Rarotonga.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann said the two countries were cooperating more, thanks to the strong leadership of the two prime ministers, and work between other ministers and officials.