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Indigenous business leaders eye free-trade agreement

John Boynton, Te Manu Korihi Reporter

An indigenous free-trade agreement is one of the key ideas up for discussion at the World Indigenous Business Forum in Rotorua this week.

Te Ohu Whaiao Maori Indigenous Business Development Trust's Richard Jefferies says indigenous groups are looking to expand their trade interest. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Indigenous business leaders from around the world are looking at the ways they can create trade opportunities for their people.

Hundreds of indigenous people from 25 countries are attending this week's forum.

Richard Jefferies - the chairperson of the Te Ohu Whaiao Māori Indigenous Business Development Trust - says indigenous groups are looking to expand their trade interest.

"More and more are expecting that there be some recognitions of the rights of indigenous people in free-trade - from what I understand there's very little in free-trade agreements around the world."

Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta spoke at the forum and said there was still a way to go in securing advantage for Māori in trade policy settings.

Mr Jefferies was hopeful for more action from the government.

"You know the debate has started and I think even Minister Mahuta acknowledged she was asking her officials to do more work on this."

Dave Archambault is the former tribal chairperson of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Photo: RNZ / John Boynton

Mr Jefferies believed there could be many different types of indigenous trade deals.

"There are the developed or more developed indigenous areas like the US, Canada and to an extent here (in New Zealand)," he said.

"But there are also less developed countries like Chile and others who also see the opportunity to indigenous trade and support."

One of the international business leaders is Dave Archambault, who is the former tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

He supported indigenous communities benefiting from free-trade agreements.

"Indigenous communities with their sovereign abilities can enter into free trade agreements and trade products that would benefit those indigenous communities and bring enormous opportunity to a population which seldom sees opportunities."

Mr Archamabault sees an opportunity for indigenous communities to collaborate.

Carver Tony Thompson said trade was a vital part of who Māori were and he backed moves to strengthen indigenous trade.

"Yeah, it's just a natural thing for indigenous people to do if money is involved I suppose money's involved, but it's still trading.

"It's always been in the blood for the Māori, since the time of Maui - he was like the first Māori entrepreneur."

Haami Te Ao said without trade his craft might look entirely different.

"Our people wouldn't have metal or chisels and we wouldn't be able to take our art further and make our designs more intricate."

The 9th World Indigenous Business Forum is being held at Rotorua and wraps up today.

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