First Māori wahine to serve as trade commissioner in Taiwan

By Aroha Mane

Photo: Tupu Toa

Tina Wehipeihana-Wilson is the first Māori woman to serve as New Zealand's drector of trade in Taiwan.

The Ngāti Tukorehe descendent, mother of four, and Stanford University alumna has been in the position for a year but says there are many opportunities, not only for New Zealand but especially Māori.

Taiwan is Aotearoa's seventh-largest export market. New Zealand dairy, meat, fruit, seafood and forest products are popular with the Taiwanese. 

“New Zealand is seen as a trusted trading partner. We punch above our weight, so they know that we stand up for the things that are important to us.

"They know we’re a long way away and they know that we’re surrounded by lots of water, have lots of sunshine and that’s reflected in the quality of food that we manufacture,” Wehipeihana-Wilson says.

Wehipeihana-Wilson has extensive experience in industry. She was part of Pareārau, the first Māori-owned chartered accounting firm, the Iwi Invest savings scheme and Tupu Toa, a business mentoring programme for Māori and Pacific, just to name a few. Now as the trade commissioner in Taiwan, she says Aotearoa are pioneers in food security.

 Alexander Turnbull Library
Tina Wehipeihana-Wilson (second from right) was part of Pareārau, the first Māori accountancy business Photo credit: Alexander Turnbull Library

“Food security is huge when you’re in other parts of the world and we’ve been lucky enough in Aotearoa, not to have to worry about that for us. Taiwan grows lots of its own kai but it just can’t produce enough. So there are 23 million people in the country, which is five times our population but seven times smaller.”

“Taiwan's demography and topography resemble that of a large kumara, and if there's one thing Taiwan knows how to do, it's whakamana te kumara. There is a kumara on every corner here, breakfast, lunch and tea. We’ve got some learning to do with our tuakana based up here in Taiwan.”

Geothermal activity is another area of interest.

“Like us, Taiwan has geothermal activity and is committed to having sustainable energy and green energy as part of their portfolio, with geothermal being part of that by 2025. Interestingly enough, geothermal lands in New Zealand reside on iwi lands. So we’ve got the ability to act as tuakana to help guide and influence and work with our whānau up here to allow them to assert their mana in the right ways and to be part of the decision-making process all the way through.”

Wehipeihana-Wilson says Māori technology is right on the cusp of where we need to be.

“It is tech city up here; every phone, computer, and all those little microchips are created in Taiwan. So they know how to execute high-level specialised manufacturing, and you can apply it to gaming, filmmaking, and television production. There is a wide range of technologies among them and how we might evolve conventional technologies for our farms and fisheries in New Zealand.”

“We’ve got awesome people already emerging back home who can do so many of those things. Look at what Sir Ian Taylor does, look at what Straker Translation do with all their translation services around the globe. Look at what Kiwa Digital does. We’ve got tech groups like Te Tira Toi Whakangao, look at what they are doing and all of the membership that's there.”

The whakapapa connection between Māori and the Taiwanese is always at the forefront.

"We’ve got 16 iwi and we have DNA whakapapa to them, so here more than anywhere else they know about us and they appreciate us. Our responsibility is to connect them back to us, our tikanga and our kawa, and our reo.," she says. "They love it."

She will be in Taiwan for three to four years.

118 million litres of wai Māori exported for 52c per litre.

Hack Tairawhiti taking tech to the regions.