how does the free association with New Zealand benefit the Cook Islands

Answer
The free association with New Zealand provides several key benefits for the Cook Islands:
  1. It allows the Cook Islands to be self-governing and have full responsibility for its own internal affairs and governance, while retaining aspects of statehood.
  2. Cook Islanders retain New Zealand citizenship, allowing them to freely live, work, and access social services in New Zealand. This provides an important economic safety valve through emigration during times of hardship in the Cook Islands.
  3. New Zealand provides necessary economic assistance and support for infrastructure development to the Cook Islands. This is crucial for the small island nation's economic resilience, especially in the face of climate change impacts.
  4. New Zealand handles the Cook Islands' defense and foreign affairs at the request of its government, allowing the Cook Islands to focus on domestic issues while having its international interests represented.
  5. The free association grants the Cook Islands legal competence to conduct international relations and enter into treaties in its own right, not just through New Zealand.
So in essence, the free association allows the Cook Islands to exercise a high degree of self-governance and independence, while still receiving vital economic support from New Zealand and benefiting from an open migration pathway for its citizens.
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