New Zealand will invest $5 million in a programme to update navigational charts to improve safety and increase economic growth in the Pacific, Foreign Minister Murray McCully says.
The five year programme was designed to update the charts for shipping, which brings over 90 per cent of trade to and from the Pacific, McCully said at the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau on Wednesday.
The Pacific "blue economies" were reliant on safe and reliable sea links, as shipping services were the primary means of shifting goods and passengers between islands.
The region was also one of the fastest growing markets for the cruise ship industry, McCully said.
It was estimated that the cruise ship industry generated earnings of US$640 million in direct passengerexpenditure for the region in 2012.
"In addition to improving safety, good hydrographic information had strong links to economic growth by supporting trade and tourism," McCully said.
From July 2016, all vessels operating in the region would have to use Electronic Navigation Charts to meet international standards.
New Zealand's support would ensure that cargo and cruise ships would continue to operate in the Pacific by bringing charts up to this standard, McCully said.
"This is work that is going to generate a very substantial return, so we are pleased to be part of that process."
For the host nation of the Pacific Islands Forum, tourism is particularly important. Palau's President Tommy Remengesau described the industry as "the goose that lays the golden egg".Tourism makes up more than half of the tiny island nation's annual GDP, which is the highest in the Pacific Islands per capita.
McCully acknowledged New Zealand had not done enough in the region to support developing countries.
"I don't believe we've done as much in the North Pacific as we should have done,'' he said. "I think we do need to do more here, and we're geared up to achieve that."
The hydrographic programme would be led by Land Information New Zealand and the Secretariat for the Pacific Community to carry out survey and charting work in the region over the next five years.
It would build on a successful pilot project in Vanuatu with the initial focus on Tonga, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, and Tokelau, with a view to extending it to cover the rest of the Pacific.