The second thing Captain Cook did upon landing in Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa (Poverty Bay) was to unsuccessfully trade with Maori.
The first thing he did was shoot a few of the Maori traders.
The explorer learned really quickly that ‘trade first, shoot second’ was a more productive way of conducting business.
And New Zealand is very grateful for this lesson not 250 years later. The playbook on international trade now opens with ‘don’t in any way start by murdering the people you are trying to trade with. It may adversely affect negotiations.'
I give this history lesson in light of the wholly rational decision of our government to sign the Comprehensive Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement or CPTPP. They’ve clearly learnt from our New Zealand history. Inside sources say the Minister of Trade, David Parker, left his musket at home during negotiations.
This deal has been concluded in the face of a group of noisy people who have vehemently opposed this and the predecessor TPP deal. Unfortunately, some of that noisy group of ideological opposers are Maori. And yet this opposition flies in the face of Maori recognition of the benefits unencumbered trade brought us.
This early trade between Maori and Pākehā required no tariffs, no regulation and no comprehensive deals negotiated by third parties.
This trade was done between two people who, without government interference, found an agreed price, shook hands, hongi’d, and exchanged the goods. The shooting began a few decades later (Captain Cook's lesson had by now sunk in).
As a consequence a thriving trade existed between iwi and Pākehā. In the first decade of the 1800s, Maori were growing crops, running sheep and cattle, farming pigs, and harvesting flax to trade for nails, steel, fabric, food and the odd gun or two. And Maori goods were circulating around the world.
Two-way trade was the mainstay of the emerging Aotearoa economy and it was unencumbered by the dead hand of any government.
Attempts by the colonial government of the day to exert customs authority over trade were loudly ignored by Maori.
My Ngāti Mutunga iwi on the Chatham Islands refused to deal with the newly appointed customs official Archibald Shand when he arrived on the island in 1855. They saw him as a pointless addition to the sales process and wouldn’t let him near the wharf.
My people understood that trade is actually quite simple. It’s the government that complicates it with its tariffs and harmonisation rules. If only we’d continued ignoring the government officials.
So the CPTPP is about removing barriers to trade and beginning the long journey to getting Maori back to the state of trade as at 1800 when we ran the country. As with any deal, compromise is the order of the day. There will be parts of the deal that work wholly in our favour, and other parts we had to give away in order to tip the deal in our favour.
And the government clearly believes the benefits outweigh the costs to us.
Maori enterprises will be some of the first cabs off the rank looking to capitalise off the back of this deal.
The $50b Maori economy is not just iwi entities such as Ngāi Tahu with its $1.3b in assets.
Rather it’s land trusts such as Tuaropaki, Parininihi ki Waitotara, Whakatu Corporation and others whose collective wealth exceeds the Ngāi Tahu’s and Tainui’s of Aotearoa.
They are active traders, already invested offshore, and will be looking to increase the financial advantage deals such as the CPTPP brings to them. They will engage in trade that brings real wealth and opportunity to their thousands of Maori shareholders.
They will fly the flag of free trade our ancestors re-hoisted after they’d forgiven Captain Cook for opening trade negotiations in 1769 with gunfire.
Ward Kamo has been a longtime presenter and panellist on Maori Television. He has worked in management consulting across a broad spectrum of sectors including iwi, forestry, public, insurance, tertiary, and electricity.
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