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Map of Tonga

Map of Tonga.
flag of the Kingdom of Tonga.

Kingdom of Tonga


New Zealand is a key regional partner for Tonga.  Relations are underpinned by a shared Polynesian heritage and extensive people-to-people links. Many Tongan leaders are New Zealand-educated. Long-standing migration links have resulted in a significant Tongan population in New Zealand. In the 2013 New Zealand Census, 60,336 people identified themselves as being of Tongan ethnicity (the third largest Pacific Island group).


Bilateral linkages

Trade and Economic relationship


New Zealand Trade (year ended June 2013)


NZ’s 75th largest merchandise trading partner

NZ Exports


Main exports

Meat, machinery, dairy produce, wood, printed material, vehicles  

NZ Imports


Main imports

Vegetables, fruit, scrap metal

Tonga traditionally operates a trade deficit, offset by large inflows of remittances and development assistance. New Zealand is Tonga’s main source of imports, with favourable shipping links. Fiji, Japan, the United States and Australia are other significant sources of imports.

A Tonga-New Zealand Business Association was set up in Nuku’alofa in 1993 to assist in promoting bilateral trade and economic linkages.  More recently (2011), the Auckland-based New Zealand Tonga Business Council was established to promote bilateral trade from New Zealand. Regional and international developments such as the negotiation of regional trade agreements (PICTA and PACER) and Tonga’s WTO membership have created a forward-looking framework for the further development of trade relations.

Domestic economic activity is based primarily on subsistence agriculture and fisheries. An estimated 70 per cent of the population derive at least part of their livelihood from farming. The squash-pumpkin crop, which is exported to Japan and Korea, is the dominant export but its promise appears to have been short-lived, partly as a result of improved production from other exporters. Kava, root crops and vanilla are also important. The fishing sector is in difficulties, with a reduction in catch, mirroring that elsewhere in the Pacific.

Political and cultural links

Development Assistance

Tonga is one of New Zealand's core bilateral development cooperation partners.  The bilateral development assistance programme for 2012/2013 is $27 million. Priority areas for Tonga under the New Zealand Aid Programme are energy, education and training, private sector development support and police assistance.

Tonga is vulnerable to natural disasters. In January 2014, parts of the northern Ha’apai group were struck by Tropical Cyclone Ian, which affected 6,000 people. New Zealand provided rapid and substantial support for the Tongan Government-led response, totalling $2.27 million to date.

Development challenges in Tonga include high levels of debt, a reliance on remittances from Tongans living abroad (mainly in the United States, New Zealand and Australia), limited employment opportunities, and low private sector investment levels. Tonga’s human development outcomes, including under-five mortality and life expectancy rates are among the best in the Pacific and are on par with its middle income status.   


An important component of the bilateral relationship is immigration. In 2002, a 250 person quota was created under the Pacific Access immigration category for Tongans wishing to migrate to New Zealand.

Tonga has also been a lead participant in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, as one of the first five Pacific Island countries to receive facilitated support for participation. The RSE allows workers to come to New Zealand for up to seven months to work in the horticulture and viticulture sectors.   Tonga sends the second highest number of workers to New Zealand under the scheme (just over 1,500 workers last year).

Defence and Police

New Zealand’s key defence partnership in Polynesia is with Tonga. New Zealand’s defence links with Tonga date back to World War I, when Tongan citizens served in the Māori and Regular Battalions within the New Zealand Army. Joint participation in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has helped cement our defence ties.

Under the Mutual Assistance Programme, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) provides a wide range of training assistance to the Tongan Defence Service, and a New Zealand Army Warrant Officer is located in Tonga as a technical adviser. In May 2013, a Visiting Forces Agreement was signed and provides a permanent legal basis for NZDF operations and exercises in Tonga. The NZDF also assists with search and rescue operations in the wake of events such as Tropical Cyclone Ian, following which RNZAF provided aerial surveillance and the delivery of emergency supplies to Tonga.

New Zealand has provided assistance to Tonga Police since the Tonga Police Development Programme was established in 2006. The programme is designed to support Tonga Police and focuses on consolidating community engagement at all levels of society, strengthening core policing skills and systems, improving leadership and organisational development, and infrastructure. 

Regional and multilateral links

Tonga’s foreign policy seeks to maintain friendly relations with all countries and in particular with the major powers. Tonga has foreign missions in London, Beijing, San Francisco, New York, and Canberra.

Tonga is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and hosted the Leaders’ Meeting in October 2007. Tongan membership of other regional bodies includes the Forum Fisheries Agency, South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, University of the South Pacific, and the Pacific Community. Tonga is a signatory to the Agreement establishing the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (although not signatory to the SPREP Convention itself).

Tonga was admitted as a member of the United Nations (UN) at the UN General Assembly on 14 September 1999. Tonga is a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, World Intellectual Property Organization and World Trade Organization (WTO). In 1996, Tonga signed the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. It has ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty. In June 2000, Tonga signed the EU/ACP successor agreement to Lome IV Convention in Cotonou, Benin.



Visits to New Zealand

Visits to Tonga

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New Zealand has had resident diplomatic representation in Nuku’alofa since 1976 (see below). New Zealand is also represented by an Immigration New Zealand office in Nuku’alofa.


Travel advice

The Safe Travel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Tonga [external link].

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014 13:12 NZST