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Cook Islands still cautious of OECD moves to graduate to developed country next year

As Cook Islands prepares to graduate to become a developed nation, possibly next year, Prime Minister Henry Puna remains cautious that his island economy will still need overseas development assistance (ODA).

“While Cook Islands, aspires to developed country status, premature graduation could have serious implications for the amount of overall resources available to meet our developmental challenges and fund our multilateral development initiatives, PM Puna told a gathering in Wellington last week.

He said his government recognises the importance of making strong efforts to develop and diversity its economy.

“The reality of our existence is such that one cyclone could potentially destroy our tourism-based economy and requires years to rebuild.”

“Through the lens of impending graduation in 2019 or 2023, Cook Islands will need to re-assess the nature of our intentional relationships. Very much like New Zealand’s Pacific re-set policy, my country will re-set our partnerships to move beyond a development focus to one of equality and mutual benefit, said the Cook Islands leader.

New Zealand, he said will remain the Pacific Island nation’s ‘premier partner of choice’ and will work closely with Wellington post-graduation.

“We will look for opportunities to build closer relations with key New Zealand ministries to assist with key New Zealand ministries to assist with technical expertise and training.

In preparation for graduation, the Cook Islands Government will look at expanding diplomatic partners and membership of international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, UNESCAP and IRENA.

“I believe that we have a great story to tell and we can contribute positively to the international debate on issues relating to the Pacific.

“We are committed to upholding universal human rights and adhering to the principles of the international rules-based system that has carefully evolved over time and underpins global security, said Puna.

Regionally, Cook Islands remain fully engaged in the regional architecture and processes – particularly the Blue Pacific initiative on the stewardship of the Pacific Ocean continent.

“The Blue Pacific may be a new phrase for the region, but we have been practicing this approach in the Cook Islands for some years now through our Marae Moana Marine protected area. It covers our EEZ of close to 2 million square kilometres and was developed through close consultation with communities throughout our islands.

“We take our Ocean stewardship role seriously by balancing commercial interests against our conservation ambitions. The Marae Moana legislation provides the framework that produces evidence to make resourcing decisions on integrated management through sustaining fishery stocks, environmental impact assessments for seabed mining and adopting a precautionary approach to the marine environment.

In October last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) announced that Cook Islands was on a steady enough path to graduate from a developing to a developed country status but later reviewed its decision giving Cook Islands until 2019 to graduate.

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