Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Pacific Peoples Minister Dr Shane Reti will look to reaffirm New Zealand’s connections to the Pacific by visiting Tonga, the Cook Islands, and Samoa this week.
The ministers are traveling down from the Waitangi treaty grounds to jump on the Te Tauaarangi o Aotearoa (RNZAF) plane from Whenuapai in Auckland, which means they will miss the public holiday celebrations.
“New Zealand enjoys strong and long-standing relationships with our Pacific partners - especially in Polynesia, where we have close political, economic, and people-to-people ties,” Peters says.
It will be the first time the government can make confident monetary offers and support as the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in November saw Carmel Sepuloni and Gerry Brownlee unable to make any promises due to the coalition government not yet being formed.
The ministers meetings are coming at a critical time since the last Pacific mission the Labour government went on in April.
Since then the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union treaty has been signed and a US embassy is set to be built in both Niue and the Cook Islands.
On last year’s trip, Labour gave $50 million to the Pacific with $30 million of that to fund climate change solutions.
Peters says this visit will be about hearing out Pacific leaders to see what is most needed.
“This trip is an opportunity for New Zealand to continue to strengthen and progress our bilateral cooperation with Tonga, Cook Islands, and Samoa while supporting each country’s respective development goals.
Given New Zealand’s place and influence in the region, our visit will also reinforce our commitment to collectively responding to the many — and varied — strategic issues and challenges facing both the Pacific and the wider Indo-Pacific,” he says.
Shane Reti will be doing some learning himself as it will be his first time meeting with Pacific leaders in his new role.
Interactions between the ministers and Pacific leaders are coming off what looks to be instability within the Pacific.
Fiji, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea voted no against the United Nations sending aid to Gaza and Nauru walked out of the Pacific Islands Forum, both late last year.
Still, Reti says he’s happy to be traveling to Polynesia, representing both of his roles ( he is also minister of health).
“New Zealand has deep and longstanding cultural links with the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga, and I am looking forward to reinforcing those, as well as discussing the shared issues our communities face in New Zealand and the Pacific, particularly in health.”
The ministers will meet Tonga’s acting prime minister, Samiu Vaipulu, Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown and Samoa Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa.
They will also meet cultural, community, and political leaders and check out activities supported by New Zealand.
Minister Reti will look to talk with health officials in each country about how New Zealand can collaborate to address long-term health goals at both national and regional levels.