Wakanda named on list of free trade partners on website maintained by US government

Is the country from Marvel’s “Black Panther” real after all — and the government just doesn’t want us to know?

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published December 20, 2019 9:40PM (EST)

"Black Panther" (Disney/Marvel Studios)
"Black Panther" (Disney/Marvel Studios)

Perhaps Wakanda, the fictional land from Marvel’s “Black Panther," is real after all — and the government just doesn’t want us to know.

Wakanda was recently included on a list of free trade partners on a website maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to NBC News. One staff member at the Foreign Agricultural Service reportedly used it as a placeholder in a dataset for its "Tariff Tracker."

"Over the past few weeks, the Foreign Agricultural Service staff who maintain the Tariff Tracker have been using test files to ensure that the system is running properly," Mike Illenberg, a USDA spokesman, told NBC News over email. "The Wakanda information should have been removed after testing and has now been taken down."

Illenberg declined to comment further.

The easter egg was discovered by Francis Tseng,  a fellow at the Jain Family Institute, who was doing research related to open markets and food production.

“I definitely did a double take,” Tseng told NBC News. “I Googled Wakanda to make sure it was actually fiction, and I wasn’t misremembering. I mean, I couldn’t believe it.”

However, the fictional entry went beyond just listing the city Wakanda. There were different commodity groups offered on drop-down menus, which ranged from vegetables to unroasted coffee beans, according to NBC News. For each commodity, there details on the tariffs were listed for each product. NBC News reports:

“Yellow potatoes had to maintain a “0.5 cent/kg” base rate when shipped in from the fictional East African nation, while frozen Chinese water chestnuts were tariff free if the U.S. decided to import them from Wakanda. Cows were also tariff free.”

There was a hint that the data points were part of a test, though. NBC News reported that the website noted the “information displayed is not official and should only be used as a general reference. Each importing countries customs office maintains the right for final determination of tariff treatment.”

Wakanda was listed as a free trade country with the U.S sometime after June 10. Marvel did not respond to NBC News’ request about the temporary trade agreement.

In Black Panther, Wakanda is the African kingdom ruled by T’Challa. It is isolated from the rest of the world and self-sufficient due to its supply of vibranium, which is described at the strongest metal in the world.

Tseng first tweeted about the mishap, which is how it gained media coverage. In a tweet, he wondered what kind of trading partnership the U.S. and Wakanda would have: “The U.S. would no doubt try to liberalize Wakanda’s markets and flood it with cheap subsidized corn.”

The Department of Agriculture got in on the fun, tweeting: “While we removed the Kingdom of Wakanda from our list of US free trade partners, our relationship will always be strong #WakandaForever.”

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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