The Cook Islands
Where On Earth is the Cook Islands?
The Cook Islands comprises 15 widely-dispersed islands in the South Pacific Ocean between French Polynesia and Fiji. The total land area of the country is 240 square kilometres, while the Cook Islands' exclusive economic zone covers a maritime area of nearly 2 million square kilometres.
The country is broadly divided into Southern and Northern Groups.
The Southern Group, comprising Rarotonga (the main island), Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Manuae, Mauke, Mitiaro, Palmerston and Takutea, are mostly of high volcanic formation (up to 652 metres on Rarotonga) with fertile soils and lush tropical vegetation. The exceptions are the small atolls of Manuae and Palmerston are small atolls, while Takutea, is a sandy key. The Southern Group possesses about 90 percent of the total land area of the Cook Islands. Rarotonga is the largest island (6,719 hectares) and Takutea, the smallest (122 hectares).
The Northern Group comprises Manihiki, Nassau, Penrhyn, Pukapuka, Rakahanga and Suwarrow. All except Nassau which is a sandy key, are low-lying coral atolls with sparse vegetation (coconut and pandanus trees etc) and large lagoons. Penrhyn is the largest island (984 hectares) and Suwarrow, the smallest (40 hectares).
The closest outer island to Rarotonga is Mangaia (204kms distant) while the farthest is Penrhyn (1,365kms away). The two most widely-separated islands of the country are Pukapuka, in the Northern Group, and Mangaia in the Southern Group (1,470kms apart).
Rarotonga is about 3,010 kms northeast of Auckland, 1,140 kms southwest of Tahiti, 2,300kms east of Fiji and 4,730 kms south of Hawaii.
The Cook Islands is situated between 9 degrees and 22 degrees south latitude and has a tropical oceanic climate with two seasons. The drier months, from April to November, have an average maximum temperature of about 26 degrees centigrade and an average minimum temperature of about 20 degrees centigrade. The wetter, more humid months, from December to March, have an average maximum temperature of 28 degrees centigrade and an average minimum of 22 degrees centigrade. During the latter season, the Cook Islands can experience occasionally severe tropical storms and even hurricanes.
The indigenous population of the Cook Islands is the Cook Islands Maori, Polynesians closely related ethnically to the indigenous populations of Tahiti and nearby islands and to the New Zealand Maori (see below).
According to the latest census undertaken in December 2002 the total
resident population of the Cook Islands is 18,027 of whom 12,188 live
in the outer islands.
Since the economic reform programmes of 1995-1996, the population has experienced heavy losses with migration to Australia and New Zealand.
Large numbers of Cook Islanders have migrated to New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere over the years, mostly to seek better employment opportunities. More than 50,000 Cook Islanders reside in New Zealand and an estimated 15,000 in Australia.
The current Cook Islands First government led by Prime Minister Jim Marurai has placed high priority on educating and training Cook Islands workers in an effort to stem this trend. A trades training course for outer islanders began in March 2003, organised by the Department of National Human Resource Development in association with New Zealand’s Unitec and assisted by NZAid.
International air services are provided by Air New Zealand, offering flights between Rarotonga and Auckland, New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti and Los Angeles, USA. The airline operates twin engined Boeing 767 aircraft and has daily flights to the Cook Islands.
An Aloha Airline Service landed in December 2002 no longer operates.
Air Rarotonga operates seven days a week including a late Sunday night service to Aitutaki and offers passenger and cargo services to the outer islands, including the remote Northern Group. The airline runs five flights to Aitutaki a day and has daily flights to four or five other islands. Services to the Northern Group operate twice a week. Detailed flight schedules are available at www.airraro.com
Two international shipping services connect Rarotonga with Auckland, Samoa, Tonga and Niue. and a smaller service operates between the outer islands and New Zealand. Another shipping company offers more or less regular service between the outer islands from Rarotonga.
Telecom Cook Islands offers International Direct Dialing services as well as internet, email, fax, telex and telegram facilities. Some of these services are also offered on the outer islands, which also have local television broadcast facilities based around a satellite package marketed by TCI.
There are six radio stations - Radio Cook Islands, 93FM (an extension of Radio Cook Islands), Radio Ikurangi,Adventist Radio TKANA 3 (Seventh Day Adventist), 88FM (Tumutevarovaro Digital Factory Ltd, Nick Henry), Matariki FM (William Framhein). Radio Cook Islands operates 18 hours on Fridays and Saturdays and 17 hours the rest of the week and its AM signals reach all islands in the country. Radio Ikurangi broadcasts an FM signal with limited reach.
Privately owned Cook Islands Television broadcasts on Rarotonga on a 24 hour basis, presenting a mix of local news, the New Zealand Television One news service, ABC Asia-Pacific and overseas-sourced programmes.
The former Government-owned newspaper, The Cook Islands News, was privatised in 1989 and publishes six days a week. Rarotonga's two weekly newspapers, the Herald and the Independent are owned by Elijah Communications, which also operates Cook Islands Television and Radio Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands has close ties with the New Zealand education system and basically has the same curriculum. As in New Zealand, education is compulsory for children aged five to 15. The government provides free education at both primary and secondary school levels and provides some financial assistance for independent schools.
The country also has a Teachers Training College, a Trade Training Centre,
Hospitality and Tourism Training Centre and Nursing School. The Fiji-based
University of the South Pacific maintains an extension centre in Avarua,
Rarotonga and provides vocational, foundation and degree courses, some
using video links with the Fiji centre.
The leading economic sector is tourism, which has grown massively since 1971 when only a few hundred tourists ventured to the Cook Islands. In the year 2000 a record 75,000 people visited the country, bringing huge economic benefits and major developments in tourist infrastructure on both Rarotonga and the northern island of Aitutaki.
Though tourism was affected by the slowdown in international travel following the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 and the subsequent collapse of charter airline Canada 3000, by the end of 2002 it was well on the way to full recovery.
Though tourism is concentrated on Rarotonga, the island of Aitutaki has developed into an important secondary centre, with Air Rarotonga flights operating seven days a week including a late Sunday night service to Aitutaki. Tourism and services industries have generated an average 80 percent of gross domestic product in recent years.
Major tourist markets are New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the United States and Canada.
Longline fishing is the Cook Islands’ newest success story.
At the start of 2003 up to 20 tonnes of fish were being exported to markets in Japan and the USA every week – a remarkable achievement considering a commercial fishing industry barely existed in 2002.
Most of the local catch is flown to New Zealand for shipment to overseas markets, while the larger boats concentrate on fishing northern waters and export their catch via PagoPago in American Samoa.
For statistical purposes longline fishing, which is centred on the Cook Islands’ two and a half million square kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone, is divided into two areas – north and south.
In the southern fishery most of the catch is air freighted fresh to markets in Japan and the United States. Most of the exported fish are tuna – bigeye, yellowfin, bluefin and albacore, with the latter making up more than half of the catch. Striped marlin and broadbill are also in keen demand and other by-catch species such as mahimahi, wahoo and moonfish are sent to the United States and sold frozen on the local market.
About 271 tonnes of fish worth an estimated $NZ 2.5 million (gross) were caught in southern waters in 2002, but with the help of a sharp increase in the number of fishing boats based in the Cook Islands, the same total was caught in the first six months of 2003.
Vessels fishing for tuna in northern waters take their frozen catch to Pago Pago for processing at local canneries. Cook Islands boats caught about 846 tonnes of tuna worth about $3.1 million (gross) in the north last year and by June 2003 this year had caught about 380 tonnes. Ministry of Marine Resources officials estimate that about 100 tonnes a year are caught by foreign fishing boats operating illegally in the area.
The Cook Islands also receives about $1 million a year from a fishing treaty which allows a certain number of US tuna fishing boats to operate in the country’s EEZ each year.
Fishing in the zone is monitored by Royal New Zealand Air Force and French military maritime patrols and the Cook Islands patrol boat Te Kukupa. There are heavy penalties for illegal fishing in Cook Islands waters.
Government has a strong policy of local involvement in the fishing industry, but allows some joint ventures with foreign companies.
Growth of the fledgling industry has been encouraged by tax concessions.
A project to enlarge the country’s largest harbour at Avatiu, Rarotonga
was prompted largely by a rapid increase in the number of longline fishing
boats based at the port and government is also encouraging the growth
of infrastructure such as training, processing and storage facilities.
Black pearls are the Cook Islands’ leading export, ranking second only to tourism in their importance to the nation’s economy. The country produced $NZ18 million worth of pearls in the year 2000, $NZ14 million in 2001 and $NZ6 million in 2002. The large drop in earnings was due to declining pearl prices and disease outbreaks in the Northern Group islands of Manihiki (2000) and Penrhyn (2001).
Black pearls are cultivated mainly on Manihiki and Penrhyn. The largest market is Japan which buys about 50 percent of Cook Islands production. The remainder is divided amongst Europe, Australia, Hawaii and domestic markets. There is also growing interest from mainland USA.
Farmers market their crops by a range of methods. The seeding technician who is often contracted to a farmer may sell some crops, while wholesalers based in Rarotonga also sell on a commission basis. Family connections may sometimes be used, either domestically or internationally. Farmers may also opt to market the crop themselves.
Seventy eight percent of the Cook Islands’ black pearl farms are on Manihiki, 20 percent on Penrhyn and 2 percent on Rakahanga.
On Manihiki the industry employs about 250 part time and full time workers. Actual production is based on 90 farms seeding about 900,000 oysters annually. Exact pearl production figures are difficult to determine, but these oysters produce about 300,000 saleable pearls.
A survey in the year 2000 showed that 450 people work on farms in the Northern group and the male to female work force ratio is 4:1.
On Manihiki the growth of the pearl industry has stimulated the remote
island’s telecommunications, transport and social sectors.
About 70 percent of all households in the Cook Islands are engaged in some form of agricultural activity for either subsistence, commercial, or both. The tourism sector is an important market outlet for locally grown produce. In addition some agricultural produce is exported to New Zealand. The Ministry of Agriculture has an ongoing research programme focused on finding new varieties of fruit and vegetables that will grow in the Cook Islands. It is currently initiating projects to revive the citrus, banana and pineapple-growing industries.
Agriculture contributes about 18 percent of the country's GDP.
The Cook Islands' offshore finance business was created by a series of legislative enactments in the 1980s which established a regime for international companies, partnerships and trusts, offshore banking, insurance companies and registered trustee companies.
There are six trustee companies in the Cook Islands. They contribute to the economy in terms of direct value added (wages and profits), licence fees and taxes and a range of indirect benefits. The industry's total contribution of the offshore sector to the national economy is about 8.2 percent of GDP, making it second only to tourism.
Entities established under the offshore regime are exempt from any form of income taxation, stamp duties and withholding tax. Strong confidentiality provisions apply to the offshore regime and no exchange controls apply to offshore activities.
The industry's most important activities revolve around the formation and management of trusts for asset protection. There is considerable onshore business servicing the trusts and providing administration services for offshore mutual funds.
Administration and regulation of the offshore industry is carried out by the Commissioner for Offshore Financial Services.
Early in 2002 the Cook Islands made a commitment under the OECD Harmful Tax Practices Initiative to cooperate with the OECD to improve the transparency of its tax and regulatory systems and establish an effective exchange of information regarding tax matters with OECD countries.
The Cook Islands experienced a major economic crisis in the mid-1990s. The reason for this was that the country had lived beyond its means during the late 1980s and early 1990s and the public service had become the largest in the Pacific region, per head of population. On top of this the country had built up a large foreign debt.
Factors outside the country’s control such as a downturn in tourism and a huge outbreak of dengue fever tipped the balance, with the result that Gross Domestic Product fell by seven percent from 1996 to 1997 and by 3.2 percent in 1997-1998.
In 1996 Sir Geoffrey Henry’s CIP Government introduced a programme designed to revive the economy by reducing the number of public servants, selling state assets and encouraging strong economic growth in the public sector. The number of Ministries was cut from 52 to 22 and the axe fell on about 1600 government jobs.
Some people were absorbed into the public sector, but the near-collapse of the country’s economy also trigged major emigration by Cook Islanders to New Zealand, Australia and other countries.
As well as moving to improve the standard of financial and economic management, the government also overhauled the tax system.
The success of the programme is reflected in the fact that government expenditure was dramatically reduced and in the year 2000, Prime Minister Dr Terepai Maoate’s coalition government achieved a budget surplus of $2.3 million.
The Cook Islands has a high GDP per capita compared to many other countries in the Pacific region.
New Zealand established a new development assistance programme with the Cook Islands in May 2001. The programme aims to strengthen governance, and encourage sustainable economic development as well as improve the delivery of basic social services.
In tandem with government’s key areas of development, aid for 2003 to 2004 will concentrate on outer islands development, education and human resource development.
The New Zealand Agency for International Development provides the Cook Islands with project support of $6.2 million. New Zealand is by far the largest bilateral donor to the Cook Islands, followed by Australia. In the 2000 to 2001 financial year the NZAid programme amounted to 53 percent of total bilateral aid to the Cook Islands.
Further assistance is provided by AusAid, the Australian Agency for International Development ($NZ1.5 million) and other funding comes from agencies including the Asian Development Bank, Canada Fund, the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
In June 2000 the Cook Islands signed the Cotonou Agreement, paving the way to important financial and technical assistance from the European Union and its Asia, Caribbean and Pacific Group. In 2003 EU funding is being applied to Education and Health.
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