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ALOFI, Niue (May 26, 2001 - Niue Economic Review/PINA Nius Online)--The Niue-New Zealand Joint Consultative Group will continue deliberations in Niue next month.

Discussion of closer integration with New Zealand might possibly be on the agenda.

The group was set up in March of last year after Niue Premier Sani Lakatani met with New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff about Niue’s political arrangement. Since then several meetings have been held in Niue and Wellington to discuss the island's future constitutional status.

Niue is self-governing in free association with New Zealand. Its links go back 100 years when the isolated raised coral atoll was annexed to the Dominion of New Zealand through Britain.

According to sources on the island, the Niue Constitution Review Committee is considering such matters as:

Niue is solely reliant on aid to stay afloat. Attempts by the current government to organize an airline, encourage overseas investment and become less reliant on foreign assistance have failed.

Much of the island's reserve capital has been spent and departments and state-owned corporations face large budget blowouts.

The local economy has been devastated by disruptions to scheduled airline services, the tourist industry is in tatters and consumers have been hit by rocketing fuel price hikes and a soaring cost of living.

The population has dropped below 2,000, with most Niueans now living in New Zealand, whose passports they carry.

Despite the results of an informal survey last year -- in which the majority of residents favored self-government in free association with New Zealand -- the current serious problems have led to apparent gradual support for a move towards a closer relationship with New Zealand.

Integration would provide Niueans access to New Zealand superannuation and welfare benefits, lower tax rates, private sector, education and health support, air services and tourism marketing on a major scale.

It would also provide security and confidence for Niueans living in New Zealand to return home to settle and help resolve a depopulation problem, analysts said.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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