Remarks by ABAC Chair Rachel Taulelei to the Australia NZ Leadership Forum Indigenous Business Sector Group, 6 October 2021

by | Oct 14, 2021 | Trade In The News





6 OCTOBER 2021



Tēnā koutou katoa, and thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the important topic of Indigenous Business inclusion from the perspective of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC).

I’m very conscious of the importance of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in promoting the relationship with our best friend across the Tasman and of the opportunities to diversify the relationship through closer links between our Indigenous peoples.

As some of you will know already ABAC is the business voice of APEC, the 21 member grouping in the Asia Pacific region.

We provide advice to APEC Economic Leaders, Ministers and senior officials and on 12 November will be sitting down – virtually of course – with Prime Minister Ardern, Prime Minister Morrison and APEC’s other Leaders to present our final Report.

The good news is that we don’t have to work to convince them just how important inclusion is.  

In the Putrajaya Vision for the future of APEC adopted last year APEC Economic Leaders made clear that the entire purpose of creating an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community is “for the prosperity of all our people and future generations”.

In a similar spirit, our theme in ABAC this year is “People, Place and Prosperity-, “Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura”.

This places the needs and interests of our people at the heart of everything we do.   

We recognise that we cannot be truly prosperous, or sustainable, if we leave behind individuals or groups in our communities.  

That holds whether we are talking about small businesses, women, Indigenous people, youth or any other disadvantaged group.  

Indeed, those are the very people, ngā tāngata, that have suffered most acutely through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today I’d like to share some thoughts about what it means to foster resilience and success for Indigenous businesses in the Asia Pacific region.

I feel well equipped to comment not just as ABAC Chair for 2021, but also as an Indigenous woman business leader, until recently CEO of a medium-sized enterprise, and now the founder of a new start up.

I am particularly energised by our work in ABAC this year to bring Indigenous business to the forefront of the conversation in APEC. 

Indigenous communities have not often featured in APEC discussions – and yet this region is home to 270 million Indigenous People – by some counts this could even be a gross underestimation!

With that said, there is huge potential in the Asia-Pacific economy, and a demonstrable need to enable greater success of Indigenous MSMEs.   

In Aotearoa, for example, we see smart and successful Māori businesses in the traditional food and beverage sector, like the firm Kono which I led until recently.

We also see innovative and dynamic Indigenous firms in the technology sector, tourism and education, the creative sector and so many more.  

At the same time, there are many Indigenous entrepreneurs, creative thinkers and small firms that do not succeed.  

They confront a range of historical and contemporary structural disadvantages, on top of the challenges that any other small business would face.

The Māori economy can be seen in many ways as a developing economy inside a developed economy.  

But it is growing rapidly – in fact, even more rapidly than the New Zealand economy overall.   

Many Indigenous economies share these characteristics:   many Indigenous Peoples have maintained their traditional knowledge systems and enhanced their know-how in a way that can stimulate the whole economy.

In these COVID times, we need to look to growth champions wherever we can.  

So how do we create the environment for success and resilience for these businesses?

This has been a big focus for ABAC this year.

We held the first-ever Indigenous Business Leaders’ Dialogue in July.  

It gives me great heart to know that Australia was well represented at the event, including by some of you, and to report that the Dialogue was a huge success, thanks to all those who shared insights and experiences. 

We had more than 90 participants from at least eight APEC economies online and engaged in the conversation. 

We also had two Cabinet-level participants in the persons of New Zealand Foreign Minister Mahuta and US Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland.

Our three main objectives for the Dialogue were to: 

  • Meet with Indigenous Business Leaders from a range of APEC economies
  • Learn about their business, trade and economic priorities, and
  • Agree on a set of statements to bring to the attention of APEC in an Annex to ABAC’s Annual Report to Leaders. 

I’m pleased to say these rather modest objectives and the quality of discussion at the event certainly exceeded our expectations. 

We discussed the common barriers that Indigenous businesses faced, and what was needed to secure their success in economic activity and trade.

We made recommendations in five areas which gained unanimous endorsement:

  • First, to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have access to the resources necessary for the wellbeing and economic security of their communities, and a seat at the APEC table to keep that conversation going
  • Second, by working in partnership across the sector, to stimulate and incentivise the growth and scalability of Indigenous businesses
  • Third, to meet the infrastructure needs, including digital infrastructure, of rural and remote Indigenous communities, as critical underpinning for success in the digital age
  • Fourth, to expandg the range of relevant and useful data collected for Indigenous business needs and recognise and support the role of prior informed consent in the collection of Indigenous people’s business and economic data.
  • And finally, to explore how Indigenous economies could benefit from existing trade agreements, and how to reflect the needs of Indigenous business in the pathways to the eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.

I think it not an exaggeration to claim that the first ever Indigenous Business Leaders event for ABAC was met with joy and enthusiasm from all the participants. 

I certainly feel proud of this milestone but I realise we are at the beginning of a journey.

The Indigenous voice is not widely heard or even accepted in other APEC economies.

In ABAC next year we will have a different Chair with different priorities.

But I am committed to encouraging continuing collaboration in the future. 

I hope that we can make some practical progress on this empowerment agenda, and I encourage you to give the ideas arising from the Dialogue some serious consideration.

In particular I am keen to hear how these ideas resonate in Australia and can become part of your ongoing trans-Tasman agenda.

We have set up a LinkedIn Group that you are all welcome to join if you wish to connect with the phenomenal Indigenous business talent across the region. 

We now also have a small but growing database of Indigenous Business Leaders across APEC to help us continue our future connections.

There are clearly many hurdles we will collectively need to overcome to support greater resilience and success for Indigenous businesses.   

But there is also a compelling case to do so.   

This is not just about extending a helping hand to those in need – it’s about tapping into a potential superpower – small, but mighty.

In all our endeavours we need to be guided by the wisdom of those ancestors who have gone before and handed down a legacy – ngā tupuna tuku iho – of smart Indigenous entrepreneurs who can help transform the economies and communities in the Asia Pacific.


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