Story: Nation and government

Page 10. New Zealand in the world

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New Zealand is a small country, with an extensive coastline and a substantial sea-borne trade with countries in all parts of the world.

The British connection

New Zealand became part of the British Empire in 1840. The European (overwhelmingly British) settlers took the connection with Britain for granted, seeing themselves as an integral part of an extended ‘British world’. Until the fall of Singapore in 1942 they regarded the British navy as the main guarantee of the country’s security. New Zealanders served in both world wars.

Ally of the United States

During the Pacific War of 1941–45 the United States, not Britain, protected New Zealand against the Japanese. After the war, in 1951, New Zealand joined the United States and Australia in the ANZUS alliance. New Zealand was suspended from the alliance in 1986, after it declined to allow nuclear-armed or nuclear-propelled ships to enter its ports. Military cooperation between the US and New Zealand resumed in 2007 and the 2010 Wellington Declaration formally ended the dispute.

A South Pacific nation

New Zealand has close constitutional and other ties with the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. The citizens of all three countries are also New Zealand citizens. The Cook Islands and Niue are fully self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. Tokelau is a dependent territory of New Zealand and enjoys a substantial measure of self-government. It is also likely to become a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. New Zealand is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, the other members of which are the South Pacific island states, Australia and Papua New Guinea.


Australia is New Zealand’s closest neighbour and its most important ally and trading partner. A formal closer economic relationship (CER) has been in place since 1983. Although New Zealand declined to join the Australian Federation formed in 1901, New Zealanders and Australians are free to enter each other’s country to live and work. The two countries are fierce sporting rivals, but share many cultural characteristics. Anzac Day – the anniversary of the 1915 landing of troops from both countries on Gallipoli – is commemorated in both countries.

International organisations

New Zealand maintains bilateral relations with many countries and participates in world affairs through membership of the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations. At the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945, New Zealand championed a role for small nations in the organisation’s affairs. In the Commonwealth, New Zealand has played a role out of proportion to its small size.

The Ross Dependency

The part of Antarctica administered by New Zealand is named after the notable British Antarctic explorer, Sir James Clark Ross. New Zealand produces special Ross Dependency stamps, which came into use in 1957. In the same year, a post office was established at New Zealand’s Scott Base, when parties first started ‘wintering over’ on the ice. A new issue of Ross Dependency stamps appeared in 1967, when decimal currency began.

International trade

Overseas trade is very important to New Zealand’s economic well-being. New Zealand participates in the WTO (World Trade Organisation), APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation Forum), the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). New Zealand is a persistent lobbyist for international trade liberalisation, especially in farm products.


New Zealand has a special association with Antarctica and was an original signatory to the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. The Ross Dependency is administered by New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Nation and government - New Zealand in the world', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 April 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Sep 2016