She was the 20-year-old whose sin was the equivalent of blaspheming in church.
In a room full of 275 mostly die-hard New Zealand and US supporters of free trade and the controversial trans-Pacific partnership agreement (TPP), Kiwa Huata rose to her feet and delivered her response to the description of opponents of the deal being "wreckers": "I think that's bullshit."
It was a sudden departure from the script after two days of talks where any questions about the TPP were largely focused on timing and the number of countries which should be allowed to sign up.
Huata - Hawke's Bay born and bred and now studying economics and international business in Auckland - admitted she would rather someone else had asked the question. She was so nervous she had to write the question down - "I'm not really good with public speaking".
But she wanted answers to questions including whether the TPP undermined sovereignty and the law, the impact on Maori culture, whether it would open the door to genetic modification and also the potential fallout for Pharmac and copyright.
The audience included the likes of former prime ministers Jim Bolger and Mike Moore, a large number of New Zealand and American business men and women and US government officials, and the heads of New Zealand government agencies including Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Defence, Customs and others.
"To me it was the elephant in the room," says Huata.
"We've seen our free trade deals get passed unnoticed .....and I always see the losers are people like myself, young Maori people, we are not often heard."
Huata is in Washington as one of a new generation of members attending the US-NZ partnership forum, previously a closed shop affair where discussions were held behind closed doors between senior politicians and government, military and select business men and women from both countries. Its membership has been expanded this year in an effort to be more relevant.
The TPP notwithstanding, the forum is exactly the sort of forum she wants to be part of, says Huata.
"This is the epitome of what I want to do. I love economics, I love trade, I love business but I think there's a lot of flaws in it and if we don't speak out who the hell will?".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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