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Cook Islands, Economy

The gross domestic product (GDP) of the Cook Islands was estimated at $79 million, or about $4,000 per person, in 1994. The main economic activities are agriculture, tourism, and financial services. Commercial agricultural activity takes place on the southern islands, where papayas, coconuts, and other citrus and tropical fruits are grown for export. The main subsistence crops are cassava, sweet potatoes, and vegetables. A cultured-pearl industry, developed in the 1980s, continues to grow. Fishing is mainly for local consumption, but the Cook Islands also derive income from the sale of fishing licenses to foreign fleets.

Service industries are the most dynamic sector of the economy. Tourism, offshore banking, and other financial services are developing rapidly. Tourism is the leading growth industry and is the largest source of foreign exchange. Remittances from relatives working abroad are a major source of income. The Cook Islands remain heavily dependent on foreign aid, with New Zealand the largest donor.

Of the islandsí 6,600-person labor force, 52 percent work in services (half of which are government positions), 29 percent in agriculture, and 15 percent in industry. The remainder mixes part-time employment with subsistence agriculture.

The international airport on Rarotonga supports flights to and from New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Chile, and Hawaii. Small carriers provide service within the territory. There is frequent shipping service from Auckland, and small vessels shuttle among the islands. Rarotonga and some of the other southern islands have good roads. The islands have a large number of motor vehicles, and motor scooters are popular.

The government operates radio and television stations in the Cook Islands. There is one private radio station. The daily newspaper is the Cook Islands News, and newspapers and magazines from New Zealand and Australia are widely distributed.

The Cook Islands are heavily dependent on imports, primarily food, manufactured goods, machinery, and fuels. Imports are typically many times the value of exports. Exports include copra (dried coconut meat), citrus fruits, pineapples, tomatoes, and bananas. New Zealand is the primary trading partner; other sources of imports include Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar ($2.20 New Zealand dollars equal U.S.$1; 2000 annual average).


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