By RNZ

Māori businesses have quickly gone from their best year of export sales on record to their worst.

New figures from Stats NZ show Māori authorities exported a whopping $741 million worth of products last year, setting a new record high.

With Covid-19 putting unprecedented strain on the global market, that figure is however expected to take a dramatic turn.

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The latest figure is up $46m from 2018, and export sales have climbed every year since 2015.

Iwi Collective Partnership represents 20 iwi-owned fisheries companies and its general manager Maru Samuels said Māori authorities could expect to see that trend take a massive nose dive.

"We're going from our best year to potentially our worst year. It's definitely going to show at the end of this year," he said.

Kaimoana including fish, crayfish, and mussels, was the top export for Māori authorities at $365m, almost half of all exports last year.

China remained the top export market, accounting for $354m, but with Covid-19 disrupting that market Samuels said Māori fisheries companies had been hit particularly hard.

"Covid certainly hasn't gone away, the impact of Covid on our businesses still continue," he said.

"I think it's going to continue for another year or two. Even as late as last week there was a recent closure to the Beijing area due to a Covid flare-up and that had an immediate impact on New Zealand lobster exports."

Te Arawa Fisheries business leader and chief executive Chris Karamea Insley agreed Covid-19 would continue to impact export sales for at least the next year, but he remained optimistic about the future of Māori fisheries and other sectors Māori were big players in, such as agriculture.

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"We're in pretty good shape as Māori in this space. Why do I say that? Because despite all of those changes that are going on and all of those blockages to markets that are happening around the world, the one thing that we know the world will continue to demand is food."

Insley suspected Māori businesses were actually in a better position than non-Māori businesses to survive post Covid-19.

"In relative terms, as Māori, we haven't been as impacted as mainstream non-Māori businesses because we carry much lower levels of debt. The Pākehā businesses, the big farms especially, carry a lot of debt," he said.

"They've got the added pressure now of servicing that debt while markets are struggling."