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Māori economy


Māori have a long history in international trade. Today, the Māori economy includes a range of authorities, businesses, and employers. With their burgeoning economy and intergenerational outlook, Māori are well-positioned to grow economically and support New Zealand.

The Māori economy

Māori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, representing 16.5% of the population. In less than 20 years, we have seen the Māori economy grow from NZ$16.5b to almost NZ$70b. The Māori asset base has grown about 10 per cent a year for the past decade – much faster than the overall economy.

Released earlier this year, the Te Ōhanga Māori report identifies there are more than 10,000 Māori-owned businesses. It shows that more than one third of the asset base is in fishing, farming, and forestry. Property and the business services, manufacturing, construction, and transport sectors are growing too.

While the Māori workforce is growing very quickly, especially those who are self-employed, the rate of entrepreneurship among Māori (8.6 per cent of the workforce) is half that of non-Māori (17 per cent of the workforce).

Māori businesses have a strong presence in the primary sector and tourism, in accommodation and the food industry, the retail sector, and in the trades – all of which have been particularly affected by COVID.

Tribal trade

Māori tribes traded kaimoana (seafood), preserved birds, berries and other foods, together with stone such as argillite, basalt and pounamu (greenstone). They traded food with early European settlers, and began exporting to Australia and the Pacific.

But when tribal land passed into European ownership, tribes had fewer resources to exploit. Māori workers often ended up in unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.

Māori enterprise

In the 20th century Māori assets tended to have multiple owners, and were managed collectively. Tribally-owned businesses had difficulty raising funds for development, and were sometimes badly managed.

The economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s put many Māori out of work and forced people into self-employment.

Restored tribal assets

In the early 2000s the number of self-employed Māori increased at a higher rate than for non-Māori, though Māori had a low self-employment rate overall.

Some assets were returned to iwi (tribal) ownership in Treaty of Waitangi settlements. These enabled iwi to invest in business. The revitalisation of Māori language and culture provided opportunities for Māori businesses in film, television and music.

Te Māngai Pāho is a government agency which funds Māori radio stations, Māori-language television and radio programmes, and music CDs.