There are many different ways and many different areas in which the Cook Islands and French Polynesia can support each other in the post Covid-19 economic recovery, and last week’s visit was about capturing the opportunities that are now available to us, writes Prime Minister Mark Brown.
On Sunday evening I returned back to Rarotonga from a three-day trip to
Tahiti where I held a number of meetings to discuss ways in which we aim to
re-establish our ties and develop bilateral cooperation with our closest
neighbours, French Polynesia.
The meeting with the French Polynesia, President Edouard Fritch, was the
first face to face meeting with a fellow Pacific leader since meeting PM
(Jacinda) Ardern in early 2021. We could all see the benefit of person to
person discussions with the very positive outcomes that we reached – that would
otherwise not be reached if it was via Zoom. It was also an opportunity to
discuss matters relating to the Polynesian Leaders Group (PLG) with myself as
the current chair and President Fritch as the incoming chair.
I was very pleased with the discussions we held with President Edouard
Fritch and several members of his Council of Ministers, as well as senior
executives from Air Tahiti Nui and the French Polynesian telecommunications
There are many different ways and many different areas in which the Cook
Islands and French Polynesia can support each other in the post Covid-19
economic recovery, and this visit was about capturing the opportunities that
are now available to us.
High on our list was the re-establishment and possible expansion of air links between our two countries, which in turn will not only help support the tourism industry, but also has the potential to improve our labour market access, create trade opportunities and strengthen cultural ties, among various other flow-on effects.
Joining me in our government delegation were officials from both our
Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration, and from Avaroa Cable Ltd, who
are looking to collaborate more closely with their counterpart OPT in French
Polynesia as members of the Manatua Cable consortium. It is the Manatua Cable
that links us to French Polynesia, Samoa and Niue and connects us to the rest
of the world.
Also on our flight was Air Rarotonga managing director Ewan Smith and
several other prominent Cook Islands businesspeople, all of whom are very keen
to develop further trade and tourism opportunities with their counterparts in
The work done by Air Rarotonga in exploring air link opportunities to
North America via Papeete is to be commended. Currently, with no immediate
access to the North American markets, we have had to explore other options and
the potential to link into Tahiti as a hub to and from North America and Europe
is an exciting development.
Air Rarotonga are leading the way in finding out how we can make this
work, with government playing a supporting and enabling role, but all parties
involved recognise the importance of establishing alternative flight
connections to the northern hemisphere and their lucrative tourist markets,
especially in light of the delayed resumption of Air New Zealand’s direct Los
Angeles (and Sydney) flights.
Currently, discussions are ongoing between Air Rarotonga and the French
Polynesian domestic carrier Air Tahiti and also the international carrier Air
Tahiti Nui (ATN), which has interline agreements with more than 40 other
transporters, and through its partners offers routes to more than 60 cities
around the world, including many along the USA’s western coast.
Most recently, ATN is about to launch another US West Coast connection
between Papeete and Seattle, where the Cook Islands already has a strong
connection to yet another US city by ATN will potentially represent some very
welcome tourist trade for our operators here in the Cook Islands.
Another benefit of more regular air links
between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia is the potential access it will
grant us to the labour market there. With a high developed tourism sector and
skilled staff in hospitality there is opportunity to explore labour sources
Recruiting workers from this
market will also come with less complexities for our prospective employers, as
direct flights mean no need for transit visas through New Zealand, as is the
case for workers coming from the Philippines, Indonesia, or Fiji.
All-in-all a whirlwind three days full of meetings and discussions that
should plant more seeds of our recovery that we can expect to harvest over the