Scoop | 2 July 2022
EU FTA & Tiriti O Waitangi: “More of the same”
Press Release: Nga Toki Whakarururanga
The government has just announced the conclusion of a free trade agreement with the European Union. One Māori entity operating in the trade space, Ngā Toki Whakarururanga, is not celebrating.
“We are aware that New Zealand negotiators genuinely sought to address our concerns about the negative impacts of this agreement on matters important to us as Māori in the face of a largely disinterested European Union.”
“But it fails to meet the standards we expect of the government under Te Tiriti o Waitangi in terms of both process and outcome,” according to Moana Maniapoto, one of the group’s co-convenors.
Ngā Toki Whakarururanga is an entity arising out of the lengthy Waitangi Tribunal inquiry on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
A Mediation Agreement with the government guarantees Māori will have genuine and effective influence over such negotiations, consistent with the rangatiratanga/kawanatanga relationship in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Instead, the group says the timing and extent of Māori participation, and the impact, have remained totally at the will of the government.
“Unless we are at the table right from the start, we can’t protect Māori interests. They will always be traded off against the Crown’s other priorities, as happened with the United Kingdom agreement and again with the EU.”
When the UK agreement was announced in March, co-convenor Pita Tipene described it as “a missed opportunity to set a new bar for honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi”. Ms Maniapoto calls this deal “more of the same”.
“Secrecy obligations mean that we can’t even consult with other Māori to ensure their rights and interests are protected. And we are always fighting a rear guard action in handcuffs against a template that gets rolled over. We can only influence at the margins, if at all.”
Ngā Toki Whakarururanga have yet to see the final text, but the government’s summary indicates a roll-over of the Treaty of Waitangi Exception that’s been included in all New Zealand’s free trade agreements since 2001 - despite it being outdated and inadequate to deal with key Tiriti concerns.
“The Māori Trade and Economic Cooperation chapter is based on the UK FTA which is unenforceable, therefore - purely aspirational with no commitment to particular action or resources,” said Ms Maniapoto.
“Dropping Māori words like tikanga and mātauranga Māori into parts of FTA texts is lovely but pointless if the rest of the agreement contradicts those foundational concepts.”
Another contradiction is the description of “Manuka” in the unenforceable Māori trade chapter as an exclusively Māori word and culturally significant. But it looks like the EU FTA’s enforceable intellectual property chapter would allow “manuka” to be trade-marked in the EU by a German, or even an Australian, company.
Tipene says his group is especially fearful about this agreement’s digital trade rules, given the Waitangi Tribunal found the rules on data and digital governance in the CPTPP had breached the Crown’s Tiriti obligations.
“The government’s summary doesn’t give us any confidence that has been resolved.”
The commercial gains for Māori seem to be just a sub-set of expected gains to exporters generally, which business groups have already dismissed as minimal.
Ngā Toki Whakarururanga will provide a more detailed assessment once the group are allowed to actually see the text.
“Ngā Toki Whakarururanga is mandated to conduct a thorough assessment of how these agreements measure up against Te Tiriti o Waitangi. So far, it seems no better than the UK agreement which we saw as a fail. Once we get the text we will be able to see if the low bar has dropped even lower.”