The Indigenous Network for Investment, Trade and Export (IGNITE) is pushing to make history by seeing Indigenous businesses and enterprises represented in Australian free trade agreements.

IGNITE co-founder Darren Godwell is a descendant of the Kokoberren peoples of Cape York and was born and raised on Kalkadoon Country in Mt Isa, Queensland. He is the chief executive of i2i Global and hosts almost two decades of experience working with Indigenous commercial interests.

IGNITE was founded by Mr Godwell, Professor Kerry Arabena, Murray Saylor and Sean Gordon to provide an industry-based, Indigenous initiative outside of government with a focus on trade and commerce.

“What we are advocating with IGNITE is … supporting Indigenous enterprise,” Mr Godwell told the National Indigenous Times.

“We’re about seeing a resumption of trade and commerce from Indigenous interests into international trade and commerce.”

Since 2019, IGNITE has been working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on an Australian-first inclusion of Indigenous interests in free trade agreements.

“In 234 years of English colonisation of our Country and our homelands, there has never once been any Australian trade pact or FTA that has an Indigenous inclusion,” Mr Godwell said.

“The concept of terra nullius hasn’t gone anywhere — it is living and breathing inside the trade agreements that Australia has signed.”

“Today however, IGNITE is seeking a trade-led strategy to secure commercial outcomes for Indigenous businesses.”

Brexit was a key trigger for this, as Australia is now negotiating new FTAs with both the UK and the European Union. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reports that as of 2019, Australia receives $160 billion per annum in direct foreign investment and the export of goods and services from UK markets.

“$30 billion is the value of goods and services exported by Australian companies to (the UK),” Mr Godwell said.

“A further $127 billion consists of investment capital that comes from English investors into Australian businesses.”

If just one per cent of that money was funnelled towards the Indigenous business sector, it would equal $1.27 billion per year.

“One FTA with the former colonial empire could deliver billions of dollars for direct investment into Indigenous proposals and businesses across the country,” Mr Godwell said.

He says part of the disconnect comes down to a lack of architecture. Whilst FTAs have the ability to provide investment capital to Indigenous businesses, these agreements also have potential to protect Indigenous intellectual property.

“For decades, our peoples have sought protection for Indigenous knowledges and intellectual property,” Mr Godwell said.

“We wanted that respect afforded to our Lore and to the Elders and their knowledge — and the keepers of knowledge.”

Mr Godwell notes the power of geographical indications listings within free trade agreements to protect commercial interests and intellectual property. He talks of the precedent-setting listing of champagne by the European Union.

“Unless (the grapes are) grown in the soil in Champagne (France), manufactured and bottled in Champagne by the means that those people have done for centuries — you cannot market it as champagne,” he said.

“There were two characteristics that the French argued contributed to uniqueness … the first is that the land (terroir) was unique, and the second being the customs of the winemakers; the people of that region.

“For 234 years our people have been arguing about how unique the land is and how unique our culture and our Lore is.”

IGNITE wants to use the power of geographical indications to protect the commercial use of Indigenous Australian botanicals into export markets — starting with the UK and EU agreements.

“At present, not one native Australian botanical is listed in an Australian FTA,” Mr Godwell said.

Kakadu plum is a favourite ingredient for skincare and cosmetic companies. It is featured in manufactured goods on the shelves in Paris, Rome and London. But we have no guarantee that any of that Kakadu plum ingredient is from Australia.

“If Australia lists Kakadu plum on a (geographical indications) list in a free trade agreement with the UK, that market is protected immediately for Australian interests, growers and companies.”

“Any counterfeiting, theft and misrepresentation, and uncertainty around authenticity of the supply chain ends.”

Mr Godwell believes global cosmetic brands “would bend over backwards to work with Indigenous interests in Kakadu” to ethically source Kakadu plum.

He notes that having Indigenous botanicals included in FTAs captures existing export markets, quantifies the value of those markets, provides intellectual property protection, and ensures that Indigenous communities would reap the commercial benefits.

At a speaking event with Charles Darwin University in May, DFAT secretary Frances Adamson heralded the work of IGNITE.

“We’re working with the Indigenous Network for Investment, Trade and Export who are at the forefront of connecting Indigenous Australians to the global economy,” Ms Adamson said.

“IGNITE is linking with global policymakers and entrepreneurs to create opportunities for excellence in Indigenous trade and investment.”

What bubbles beneath IGNITE’s hard work is a strong principle of the “resumption of abundance”.

“I’m on this journey with lots of other Indigenous peoples,” Mr Godwell said.

“We are challenging mindsets. We are returning to a concept of abundance on our own lands.

“Our peoples lived in these Countries and Nations in lives of abundance — in the truest sense of the word.

“We want to return to abundance on our own Country.”

By Rachael Knowles