On International Women’s Day, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) ASYCUDA Pacific Programme is celebrating the progress and achievements of Pacific women in customs and trade.

We are thrilled to spread positive vibes from the Cook Islands customs administration and join the world in acknowledging and celebrating the incalculable contributions and advancement of women, this March.

A nation’s customs administration has many facets. Among the vital functions are the upholding of tax laws at the border, overseeing secure customs and border clearances of goods, preserving the interdependence of commerce, and making a substantial economic contribution.

Leading this diverse position for the Cook Islands Customs Service (CICS) is Mrs. Maria Matua-Ioane, Chief of Customs. Mrs. Matua-Ioane leads a dynamic team of 13, eight of whom are women, who are vital to the Islands’ border and customs operations.

Mrs. Maria Matua-Ioane the Chief of Cook Islands Custom Administration (sitting) adorned in her cultural attire as she is celebrated the Woman of the Month in December 2023. ©Izzy

Mrs. Matua was the celebrated woman in her country, last December. She was accorded with the ‘Cook Islands Woman of the Month Award’, signifying the recognition of her incredible journey and achievements as a woman in her village, community and the country.

We also took a look at the CICS’s Trade Department which is led by Ms. Matamaki Elizabeth Tetauru who likes to be called Izzy. Izzy is the Acting Senior Customs Officer – Trade and Revenue Assurance and leads a team of five women inclusively as, “Not a lot of men apply for the vacancies with the Customs Trade team,” Izzy said.

Starting off as a casual airport customs officer in 2011, Izzy’s role evolved to a customs trade officer in 2020, when the global COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Recognising her resourcefulness and skillfulness, she was nominated to her current role. Izzy was reluctant to take on the role, especially since she just started out with the team in 2020 but with encouragement from senior officers, here she is today. Izzy adds, “Take every opportunity that comes your way and don’t be afraid to try. See the potential in yourself that others obviously see.”

Since 2022, the Cook Islands Customs Service transitioned into the ASYCUDAWorld system, streamlining processes and thus, increasing efficiencies. Izzy’s team, utilises almost 90 percent of the information from the system to conduct audits, making their jobs quicker and efficient.

Apart from managing her team, Izzy has her own tasks which include; approving applications, reviewing documents and advising on customs legislations and processes specifically for trade.

While operating from the office, Izzy learnt how important her role and that of her colleagues has been and continues to be for the country, region and the world.

“Being in this role I realized how BIG our work is, regionally and internationally,” she said.

“I am happy that I am supporting this role and it has been inspiring. With more women in the office, there are definitely no gender-based challenges. Instead, we love the fact that we are able to work together and with the positive leadership, progress our services seamlessly and are appreciated by our clients.” Izzy expressed. 

Izzy (second left) with her team members. © Izzy

Izzy loves her work and the fact she is able to work collectively in improving the services of CICS.

For a woman, Izzy believes that education and knowledge is colossal therefore, one must always seize opportunities for development.

Never stop learning, keep growing and glowing,” Izzy added.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s ASYCUDA Pacific Programme is committed to providing equitable access to capacity enhancement opportunities for women in customs and trade in the Pacific.