The Maori economy was worth $37 billion to New Zealand in 2010, Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples said in a speech this afternoon.
The speech was part of a review of the Maori contribution to NZ Inc.
Mr Sharples told a gathering on the Wellington waterfront that Maori gave New Zealand a unique edge over its competitors.
New Zealand was tiny on the world stage, especially when international markets such as China and India are considered, Mr Sharples said.
"Every developed nation around the world is competing to enter these markets that are emerging as the new global-powers of the 21st century," he said.
"It is vital that New Zealand has a coordinated approach to our engagement with these nations.
"We also need to be unique. We need a value proposition that our much larger competitors don’t have. That value proposition is Maori."
Overseas markets, and international visitors to New Zealand, are increasingly receptive to the cultural distinctiveness inherent in indigenous products and services, Mr Sharples said.
"Maori goods and services are unique and it is the tikanga Maori aspects of those goods and services that make them unique. Not just in the design or the materials, but in the way we do business.
"We are in a new era of business and people today want to know the story behind their product – they want to know its whakapapa."
Increasingly, Maori organisations are becoming significant contributors to the wider New Zealand economy, he said.
"Ngai Tahu is the South Island’s largest company and Treaty of Waitangi settlements continue to provide a platform for tribal and Maori led growth."
Mr Sharples said prudent investment and an intergenerational outlook have seen tribes prosper, even in the depths of the last recession.
"Traditionally focused on primary industry, our tribal businesses are increasingly looking to diversify portfolios: telecommunications; property; carbon forestry; digital technology; and of course, power generation.
"Our businesses include partnerships with government, private companies and overseas investors. Maori businesses and entrepreneurs are working together both domestically and internationally on major economic initiatives.
"NZ Inc is that much stronger with Maori as an integral part of it. This is our unique edge we have over the rest of the world."
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