White Earth Nation to pursue foreign trade zone

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MPR file photo

The White Earth Nation is considering an interesting move to spur economic development on the northern Minnesota Reservation.

In her recent state of the nation report, Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor mentioned the idea of setting up a Foreign Trade Zone on the reservation.

White Earth Economic Development Director Jerome Lhotka said he’s only done preliminary research on the idea, but it appears promising. He said a foreign trade zone at White Earth could lead to “bricks and mortar” economic development and job creation.

The idea is to induce businesses involved in international trade to locate on the reservation.

A foreign trade zone allows companies to delay, reduce or, in some cases, eliminate U.S. Customs duties on products which are imported or exported through the zone.

Companies can also avoid paying some state and local taxes.

Lhotka said the tribe will complete a detailed analysis and request legal advice before applying to the federal government for the zone.

Minnesota now has three foreign trade zones; in Minneapolis -St. Paul, Duluth and International Falls.

Typically zones are tied to a customs port of entry.

Other Indian tribes have Foreign Trade Zone status, including the Lummi in Washington State, and the Oneida in Wisconsin.

A Foreign Trade Zone is just one idea among many White Earth is pursuing in an effort to diversify the economy in an impoverished part of the state.

White Earth Chairwoman Erma Vizenor is pushing hard for a tribal casino in the Twin Cities, but she also said long-term economic security for the tribe requires diversifying the economy beyond gaming.

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