New trade deal's cultural protection fails against big money

By Stefan Dimitrof

An historic free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United Kingdom, signed yesterday, has been described by critics as a missed opportunity to honour Treaty obligations.

Ngā Toki Whaka-Rururanga, an entity established, following the Waitangi tribunal inquiry, on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, (CTPPP), says this FTA is just symbolic and it's concerned it threatens fundamental Māori rights and values.

The deal, which eliminates all tariffs for New Zealand export is predicted to boost New Zealand’s GDP by up to a billion dollars, and will come into force by the end of this year.

Ngā Toki Whaka-Rururanga co-convenor Moana Maniapoto says the FTA is not such a great deal for Māori. “I think it misses the opportunity to set the bar higher than we ever have. There have been talks about the good bits and I need to acknowledge our trade officials and our minister for pushing for the good bits.”

"We have dug down into the fine print and our experts tell us that words like ‘may’ are not the same as words like ‘shall’. It’s disappointing”.

Digital data under threat

Maniapoto says the group is keeping an eye on the free trade agreement as it’s not just about “economic commercial benefit” but can threaten “Matauranga Māori, traditional rights to our own intellectual property”.

“A new relationship has been developed through mediation, which has allowed Māori to become more actively engaged in the process.”

But she says there are a lot of fluffy words in the FTA.

Maniopoto says the agreement is lacking any real “bite” in terms of meaning anything to Māori or protecting Māori interests.

”We noticed the UK Intellectual Property office endorsed a call from Australia that it was able to use the words Mānuka Honey. It didn’t recognise our matauranga Māori. Those are the types of things that aren’t being protected.”

The other area directly threatening Māori is the collection of Māori digital data. Maniopoto said digital rights aren’t being protected and that “big tech companies mine Māori data to use it in any way they like to target consumers”.

“This FTA does not change the protective mechanisms that we have challenged consistently in the past. We must work together to strengthen it."

Maniopoto argued that as the agreement stood, multinationals could do what they liked with cultural treasures such as Ka Mate.