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[Media Release - MFAI] Cook Islands – Australia progress bi-lateral co-operation talks

Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration

The Hon Mark Brown, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister of Finance, this afternoon had a very productive telephone discussion on a range of trade and other economic issues with the Hon Simon Birmingham, Australian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Investment.

“Given the increasing closeness of our relationship with Australia and its support for the Cook Islands’ developmental aspirations over the years, it was timely to have a discussion on recent events and what future co-operation we might jointly pursue,” explained the DPM.

During their phone call, the two Ministers discussed the impacts of the corona virus on their respective countries, especially their economies and tourism sectors in particular. In outlining the challenges faced by the Cook Islands as a result of the pandemic, the DPM recalled the recent decision of Forum Economic Ministers calling on development partners and financial institutions to provide debt relief and flexibility in development financing modalities to enable the Cook Islands and other island countries to address the extensive problems posed by COVID-19. Such relief would free up considerable financial resources to support critical economic recovery initiatives that would otherwise go to satisfying debt servicing commitments, notwithstanding climate change impacts and natural disasters risks that are pre-COVID challenges the Cook Islands and all Pacific countries continue to grapple with.

Deputy Prime Minister Brown and Minister Birmingham also discussed the Cook Islands’ progress to date in undertaking necessary actions to enable it to ratify the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus Agreement between the Cook Islands and other Island Countries, Australia and New Zealand. “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,” stated the DPM. “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”.

“Minister Birmingham appreciated being brought up to speed with our current situation, and our efforts to date in addressing our challenges and our plans for the future. Australia is a good friend to the Cook

Islands and we look forward to closer cooperation in the months ahead,” concluded DPM Brown.

During his telephone discussion, the DPM was supported by Dr Jim Gosselin, Director, Pacific and Regional Division of Te Kauono Tutara e te Mana Tiaki - Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration (MFAI).

This afternoon’s discussions follow multiple prior high level discussions between the two Governments since last year’s official visit to Canberra led by Prime Minister Puna. These were followed by an in person meeting between DPM Brown and Minister Birmingham in Suva in February this year, in the margins of the PACER Plus Trade Ministers meeting chaired by DPM Brown and in recent weeks, talks between Prime Minister Puna and Prime Minister Morrison.

MFAI will continue to progress discussions with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including through the Australian High Commission in Rarotonga headed by High Commissioner Chris Watkins. Said MFAI Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann, “We’ve sustained an elevated platform and expanded scope of co-operation with Australia over the last 12-24 months through strong Prime Minister to Prime Minister leadership, Minister to Minister engagement and close working relations at Senior Officials level across a growing spectrum of areas. We look forward to continuing to work closely with DFAT colleagues in the coming months to advance our government’s shared aspirations, bilateral as well as regional including through PACER Plus.” MFAI are leading the Cook Islands completion of PACER Plus ratification processes and PACER Plus outreach engagements with key government agencies, the business community and civil society are planned for next month.

Queries regarding this media release and ongoing bilateral co-operation between the Cook Islands and Australia can be directed to MFAI Director International Affairs Division Karopaerangi Ngatoko on on phone +682 29347


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