On December 10, 2021, New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Associate Minister for Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, and Minister of Trade and Export Growth, Damien O’Connor, announced the successful conclusion of the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement (IPETCA) and invited other APEC economies to declare their intention to join. Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development, Mary Ng, announced Canada’s endorsement of IPETCA on the same day.
The IPETCA represents to unique new step for Indigenous participation in the global economy. It is a trade arrangement collaboratively developed by New Zealand, Canada, and other Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies with important Indigenous participation. It sets out a framework for economies and Indigenous peoples to work together to increase trade and economic cooperation.
A New Zealand-led initiative in collaboration with its Māori partners, the work was spearheaded by the APEC Steering Committee on Economic and Technical Co-operation, which launched a policy dialogue on Understanding and Valuing Indigenous Economies within APEC in March 2021. APEC is a 21-member intergovernmental forum dedicated to promoting economic growth and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. As the New Zealand government has pointed out, the Asia Pacific region contains approximately 70 percent of the world’s 475 million Indigenous population.
Indigenous Peoples have been traders and entrepreneurs since time immemorial. Indigenous economies have evolved considerably and continue to make a meaningful contribution within APEC economies. We know that firms engaged in the tradable and export-focused sectors are more innovative, more competitive and pay higher wages. Indigenous Peoples are increasingly active in these export-focused sectors, but growing inequality, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and continued social and economic challenges, is a constraint to Indigenous Peoples taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by trade.
Since March 2021, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Chinese Taipei and other APEC economies made great progress, developing the IPETCA in collaboration with their Indigenous peoples. This active participation was a critical part of the process as Indigenous peoples played a critical role in developing the text of the IPETCA alongside participating economies. With the focus on the economic empowerment of Indigenous peoples in the Asia-Pacific region, there was active Indigenous participation in multilateral APEC meetings and precedent-setting international Indigenous-to-Indigenous consultations.
Global Affairs Canada (GAC) acknowledged the importance of the “close cooperation with Indigenous peoples in Canada through [its] … Indigenous Working Group on Trade Policy (IWG) and … the importance of enhancing the ability of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous businesses to benefit from the opportunities created by international trade and investment.” The IWG was launched in 2017 to facilitate Indigenous participation in the relegations of NAFTA. (For more on Canada’s approach on international trade and Indigenous peoples, see the GAC website.)
The IPETCA is intended to create a framework for economies and Indigenous peoples to work together to increase trade and economic cooperation. The goal is to facilitate economic cooperation across a range of areas including responsible business conduct; Traditional Knowledge; opportunities for Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises; and digital trade and e-commerce. The agreement reaffirms commitments to important international instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Other highlights in the IPETCA include:
- Specific understandings on Responsible Business Conduct and the protection of Indigenous Traditional Knowledge;
- A definition of “Indigenous trade and investment” that was developed by Indigenous peoples;
- Provisions for economies to work with Indigenous peoples to further develop and expand international Indigenous trade and requirements for economies to promote policies that increase Indigenous peoples’ participation in trade and investment;
- Provision for signatories to consider a range of activities and sectors for direct cooperation, as well as underlying principles that should underpin cooperation; and
- Review provisions aimed at ensuring that the IPETCA remains effective and relevant.
In a particular provision of great importance, the IPECTA establishes the Partnership Council, a joint decision-making body that will enable both economy representatives and Indigenous peoples to oversee and implement the Arrangement.
The IPETCA and the APEC process enjoyed widespread support among Indigenous groups in Canada:
As a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee, I witnessed and participated in months of cooperation with Indigenous peoples from national organizations and other state economies in support of the development of the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement. I applaud the cooperative effort that went into the arrangement’s creation, and I recognize the historical precedent Canada’s endorsement of it sets in affirming Canada’s commitment to a more inclusive economy between and among Indigenous peoples in global markets.
The agreement is open to any APEC Member economy, WTO Member, or any other economy.
The full text of the IPECTA is available on-line.
 Michael Woods Invited to Participate in APEC Policy Dialogue on Indigenous Economies – Woods, LaFortune LLP (wl-tradelaw.com) ; Global Affairs Canada – Indigenous Working Group – Woods, LaFortune LLP (wl-tradelaw.com)
 Dawn Madahbee Leach, Chair of the National Indigenous Economic Development Board; National Indigenous Economic Development Board Applauds Canada’s Endorsement of Precedent-Setting Indigenous Trade Arrangement – NIEDB – CNDEA (naedb-cndea.com)