‘National treasure’: New Zealand Māori haka protected in trade deal with UK

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

It may not be enough to prevent the dance being butchered by dance troupes, in TikToks or at pub crawls, but a historic new UK-New Zealand free trade deal includes commitments from the UK to protect New Zealand’s iconic haka, Ka Mate.

The deal is expected to boost New Zealand’s GDP by $970m, and eventually lift tariffs on all its exports to the UK. But its provisions extend beyond the economic: unusually, it also notes “a commitment by the UK to cooperate with New Zealand to identify appropriate ways to advance recognition and protection of the haka Ka Mate ... [and] acknowledge Ngāti Toa Rangatira’s [the leaders of Ngāti Toa tribe’s] guardianship of the haka”.

The Ka Mate haka, a traditional Māori war dance that is performed internationally by some of New Zealand’s top sports teams, has been subject to controversial appropriation in the UK. Last year, a group of UK nurses apologised after performing an altered haka in facepaint, which cultural adviser Karaitiana Taiuru said at that time was “blatant cultural abuse that is verging on being racist”.

Related: The haka isn’t yours – stop performing it | Morgan Godfery

While a free trade deal is unlikely to prevent those incidents entirely, it may go some way to protect the haka from being used in commercial settings by those other than its traditional Indigenous guardians.

“Ka Mate is one of the most appropriated, commercially ripped off icons of New Zealand and Te Ao Māori [so] it’s important and logical that it’s in there,” Taiuru said. “And at events in London we see drunk Kiwis down the street doing the haka, just disrespecting Ngāti Toa, Te Rauparaha, the whole haka … I hope that this was a good step forward for recognition of Indigenous rights.”

Māori party co-leader Rawiri Waititi welcomed the protections. “We must be looking at cultural appropriation – not misappropriation, treating it with a lot more respect and I’m glad that a lot more people are,” he said, according to the New Zealand Herald.

“You’ve got to understand the concept of haka, and what it’s about,” Waititi said.

“It’s not a commodity to be used in that sort of space, it’s a taonga [treasure] that’s been gifted to the All Blacks by Ngati Toa and Aotearoa and we’re really proud of it.”

Ngāti Toa’s guardianship of Ka Mate has been written into New Zealand law since 2014, and the haka has been formally recognised as a taonga, or treasure, belonging to the iwi, or tribe. Ngāti Toa iwi leader Kahu Ropata has previously told Te Ao Māori, “It is recognised as a national treasure … “Our iwi signed the Ka Mate Ka Mate attribution bill through our settlement to recognise our rightful role as sole guardians of the haka. For whoever uses it should acknowledge its origins.”

Announcing the deal, British prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We already share deep ties of history, culture and values, and I look forward to the next chapter in our friendship.”

Competitive against China

The new free trade deal is one of only a handful that the UK has created from scratch in the post-Brexit era – and one Britain hopes will also chip away at New Zealand’s trade dependency on China.

The focus on the region is part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s 10-year plan to tilt the UK’s foreign policy focus towards the Indo-Pacific, strengthening the alliance and position of democratic countries in the region to make them more competitive against China.

More than 30% of New Zealand exports go to China, its largest trading partner. The country has come under fire in the past for adopting slightly gentler rhetoric on China than some of its allies – a stance critics claim is as a result of trade vulnerability.

New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta has previously urged exporters to diversify and reduce their vulnerability to geopolitical shocks like the trade war Australia is experiencing.

Announcing the deal on Thursday, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said that Covid-19 had taught the country that “we must have as many options for our world-class products to ensure certainty for our primary producers, our economy and our people”.

Under the deal, the UK would eventually eliminate all tariffs on New Zealand exports. The most immediate winners will be New Zealand’s honey exporters – currently paying a 16% tariff – and its winemakers, which pay $50 per 100 litres.

“It’s obviously good news,” said John Rawcliffe of the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association. “The removal of the of those tariffs which are somewhat of a barrier is very helpful for particularly the manuka [honey] industry in New Zealand.

“The signals and the recognition of culture and Indigenous rights also are quite significant for this industry … [it’s] starting to support the work around the protection of the term manuka honey, and the need to recognise those rights.”

Related: 'No problem at all': New Zealanders praise England's response to All Blacks haka

Some duties and quotas will remain, however, on about 35% of exports – including tariff-free quotas for some beef, lamb and dairy exports in the next five-15 years. The New Zealand government estimated that tariff elimination would save local exporters about $37.8m a year. Officials said expanded access to UK markets would result in a boost of almost $1bn to New Zealand GDP – about 0.3% of New Zealand’s GDP. The impact on UK GDP is likely to be negligible – more in the realm of 0.01%, or possibly nothing.

Independently of the trade deal, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the two countries were working on extending and improving the New Zealand-UK working holiday scheme.

“For many young New Zealanders an overseas experience has become a rite of passage, providing a pathway to develop their skills and work experience while travelling and living in the United Kingdom,” Ardern said.

Work on extending the program would begin immediately.

“It is fantastic that we will now work to build on what has been a long tradition between our two countries. We look forward to receiving those from the United Kingdom and providing them the same opportunities on our side of the world,” she said.

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