Cook Islands shifts focus to future
March 31, 2021
The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands says it's time to move from protecting people's health to protecting their livelihoods.
Mark Brown made the comments in the final days of his visit to New Zealand, the first by an international leader since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brown said the last year had been focused on preventing Covid-19 from entering the country.
Now, with a quarantine programme set for May, Brown said a two-way travel bubble with New Zealand could be operating the same month.
He said it was time to vaccinate the country in order to protect jobs, businesses and the investments government had made to keep tourism solvent.
"For us as a country dependent on tourism, it's important that we have the tourism starting again and that we have travel from New Zealand to Raroronga in order for our people to get back into work in order for our businesses to start recovering."
The prime minister said Covid-19 had put into stark light the need to diversify the country's economy.
Visitor spend plunged to zero in the last year from $US235 million to the year ending June 2019 when tourism made up 65 percent of economic activity.
Brown said the country suffered from having all its eggs in the tourism basket during the pandemic.
He said this had put more emphasis on the need for alternative revenue streams.
"We've had the seabed minerals industry as part of our development for a number of years now, remembering that the Cook Islands is 99.99 percent ocean. Our land area is 0.01 percent. It's inevitable that we will turn to the ocean for our well-being and for our future prosperity."
Brown said every precaution would be taken to ensure the health of the marine environment.
He reassured the public saying any extractive activities conducted within the country's sovereign waters would be done without damaging the marine environment.
Brown said during the current exploration stage for seabed mining viability, knowledge would be gained to understand the impact of potential activities at 5000 to 6000 metres.
Specifically, Brown cited the affect on biodiversity at ocean depths during the harvesting of polymetallic nodules.
"We want to make sure that whatever activities we do undertake in future, in harvesting the wealth that sits within our oceans, that it does not damage our ocean.
"That's our promise. We've declared our ocean as a Marae Moana, we've passed legislation that protects our ocean. So our activities that we undertake in our ocean will be done in a way that does not damage our ocean....at all". - RNZ