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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (May 2, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---The government predicts the Cook Islands’ current level of migration to New Zealand will soon reverse itself in the wake of the island country’s improving economy.

Because Cook Islanders automatically carry New Zealand passports, many of them leave for greener economic pastures in Auckland for jobs.

As a result, the Cooks has seen a surge of out migration, leaving questions of the country’s continued viability. The Cook Islands currently has a population of 17,000 people - down from 20,000 recorded in 1994.

But Financial Secretary Kevin Carr said the country’s economic situation has improved and the government is now working at creating jobs by supporting small businesses and developing the outer islands.

"The concerns were two or three years ago and aggressively since then the economy has improved in the last 18 months," Carr said in an interview with Radio Australia’s Bruce Hill. "I’m anticipating that as the economy picks up, you will see in the future a return of those people."

Carr said the government last year had a surplus of about $2.5 million. This year, revenues are expected to be five per cent higher than originally anticipated.

The Cook Islands is developing small-scale enterprises on the outer islands, including the development of copra, seaweed, noni juice, and fishing.

Roads on Atiu will be improved, and an airport is planned for Mitiaro.

Carr said it’s important that development be spread throughout the country rather then just be concentrated on Rarotonga.

"The outer islands have missed out particularly during the period of restructuring," he said. "We want to create a sustainable population there. Some islands have considerable potential in pearls, fishing, and seaweed."

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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