Before the formation of boundaries between the United States and Canada, indigenous tribes would trade freely with one another. An organization called the Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization, or ITTIO, is trying to restore those connections.
ITTIO hosted a conference at the University of Oklahoma School of Law last week to discuss how tribes can promote trade across borders.
Additionally, a proposed new chapter in the North American Free Trade Agreement could deal specifically with trade between indigenous groups.
Journal Record reporter Molly Fleming spoke with KGOU about inter-tribal trade on The Business Intelligence Report.
Jacob McCleland: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Jacob McCleland. Today we’re talking with Molly Fleming. She’s a reporter at the Journal Record newspaper. Molly, thank you for joining us.
Molly Fleming: Hey, thanks for having me.
McCleland: I want to talk about the International Inter-Tribal Trade and Investment Organization. They held their conference at the University of Oklahoma College of Law last week. First, what’s the focus of this organization?
Fleming: This is the fourth year for the organization to be in existence. The goal is to promote trade between tribes. So this idea is that before the U.S. was founded, the tribes traded with each other all the time. Now, the group’s organizers said the trade seems almost non-existent because of countries’ boundaries, but that’s not exactly the case. So this group tries to remind tribes -- both in the U.S. and Canada -- that intertribal trade can still happen. There’s also talk of expanding the participation to Mexico’s tribes as well.
McCleland: One of the things that mentioned in one of your articles is that the Citizen Potawatomi Nation has an industrial park -- it’s the the Iron Horse Industrial Park -- and it’s a foreign-trade zone. What exactly does that mean?
Fleming: A foreign trade zone offers expense benefits to companies that open in a foreign trade zone. Those companies can bring in their raw materials duty-free. And they also can sell those products back to the U.S. without tariffs. The city of Ardmore also has an industrial park that’s a foreign trade zone.
McCleland: What are the benefits that a foreign-trade zone can bring to a tribe?
Fleming: Hopefully it can help recruit companies to come to the area and employ people. With tribes being in rural areas, that’s a big deal. Also, for a tribe, they have a double advantage with a foreign-trade zone in that they can offer the benefit of this space, and they can offer incentives from the state, such as manufacturing or aerospace-related incentives.
McCleland: So kind of going back to trade between tribes in the U.S. and Canada, I mean, we’ve kind of had these escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and our neighbor to the north. We have the renegotiation of NAFTA, and higher tariffs on certain goods like steel and aluminum. How does that change how these sovereign tribal nations can conduct trade with each other?
Fleming: So this is where my knowledge of international trade ended, so I called Wayne Garnons-Williams, who is the director of the International Inter-tribal Trade and Investment Organization, also known at ITTIO. He’s also a fellow this summer at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. And he works full-time in Canada, so he represents the Canada side of ITTIO. Wayne said the question of inter-tribal trade now is one that’s a role of the dice. Tribal nations have certain jurisdictions, they have sovereignty,that also have ancient pre-existing rights of tribal trade. This has never really been tested in court, so there’s no court case to fall back on this. But that’s why IITIO has been working with 50 stakeholders and Global Affairs on creating a chapter in the new North American Free Trade Agreement that allows inter-tribal trade. Wayne said the chapter has been well-received. And if it makes into the final copy of the NAFTA agreement, it would allow tribes to negotiate their own trade agreements.
McCleland: So the idea with the organization ITTIO is to facilitate inter-tribal trade. What are the advantages of trade between Oklahoma and Canadian tribes?
Fleming: It could boost economies, essentially,and it could also bring in new products. At another tribal conference last week, when this was discussed, it was mentioned that this would be a great way to get fresh salmon to casino restaurants. Wayne Garnons-Williams said the goal is work with grass-roots organizations and help them grow. He called it micro-trading, which could open the door for Oklahoma tribes to a new market. So it wouldn’t necessarily be large companies. It would be of ma and pa type operations being able to expand into a new market and then grow their own companies because of this expansion.
McCleland: So have any of these deals been made yet between these small companies? Or are they still working through the details at this point?
Fleming: I know the Iron Horse Industrial Park has been working on a deal. Other deals happen frequently, but nothing major. Those are more like one-time deals, but under the indigenous trade chapter, the goal is to create a more constant flow of goods.
McCleland: We’ve been talking today with Molly Fleming. She’s a reporter at the Journal Record newspaper. Molly, thank you for your time.
Fleming: Hey, thanks for having me.
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