Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is aggressively fighting to exclude canned tuna from the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
“U.S. Trade Representatives are in Houston, Texas negotiating the terms of the agreement this week,” Congressman Faleomavaega said, “and I am pleased that Congressman Charles Rangel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, agreed to join me in signing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick requesting that canned tuna be excluded from the CAFTA. I am also pleased that Congressman Anibal Acevedo-Vila from Puerto Rico also joined in signing our letter.”
“This is not the first letter that I have sent to the White House administration requesting support for American Samoa’s tuna industry. However, this letter is a critical reminder that more than 5,600 jobs are at stake if Central American countries are given the same trade privileges as the U.S. Territory of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. No matter what, I will not support Central America’s efforts to put our cannery workers at risk.”
“At this time, we have made our position clear and strongly recommended that canned tuna in oil and water be treated as highly import sensitive in the on-going U.S.-CAFTA negotiations. We have also informed the U.S. Trade Representative that the International Trade Commission (ITC) conducted section 332 investigations in 1984, 1986, 1990, and 1992 and the results of each investigation clearly establish that canned tuna is an import sensitive product.”
“We understand that some may believe that canned tuna from the Central American region is not likely to adversely affect U.S. production,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “While it is true that current exports for the region are relatively small, the countries of Central America have capacity and the region already process about 10% of the catch in the Eastern Tropic Pacific.”
“These countries also have unused fleet capacity allocations, meaning that they have the capacity to expand their fishing fleets if provided with the incentive to do so. Furthermore, there is no barrier to Central America bringing fish in from the Western Tropic Pacific for processing. If duties are lowered or tariffs are eliminated, countries in Central America could rapidly expand their processing capability and displace U.S. production in American Samoa and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”
“This would have a devastating impact on the economies of American Samoa and Puerto Rico. As has been repeatedly stated,” Faleomavaega said, “American Samoa’s economy is more than 85% dependent on the U.S. tuna fishing and processing industries. The U.S. tuna industry is the largest private employer in American Samoa and more than 5,000 workers will be affected by how the USTR decides to treat canned tuna in the CAFTA. Simply put, a decrease in production or departure of one or both of our processors (Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing or Starkist) would devastate American Samoa’s local economy resulting in massive unemployment and insurmountable financial difficulties.”
“More than 562 workers would also be affected in Puerto Rico. Bumble Bee Seafoods owns and operates a canning facility in Puerto Rico. Bumble Bee has always maintained a close relationship with the Puerto Rican government and more specifically with the Puerto Rico Investment Development Company (PRIDCO). Bumble Bee has worked hand in hand to ensure the long term sustainability of tuna processing in Puerto Rico and over the last several years has invested in new technology and has modified its process to enable its operations to be competitive despite intense competition from foreign processors. Like Chicken of the Sea and the U.S. Tuna Foundation, Bumble Bee is opposed to duty-free treatment for canned tuna from Central America.”
“Hopefully, the U.S. Trade Representatives will take into consideration Central America’s potential for expansion before negotiating tariff reductions that will negatively impact U.S. companies, workers, and their communities. We are also hopeful that the White House administration will give careful thought and will discuss with us the precedent that will be set by the outcome of this trade agreement on future Free Trade Agreements.”
“Neither American Samoa nor Puerto Rico can afford a loss of production as a result of this or any other Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. tuna fishing and processing industries are also in no position to compete against low wage countries. This is why we have asked the USTR to treat canned tuna as an import sensitive product. If the USTR is unable to completely exclude canned tuna from the U.S. Central America Free Trade Agreement, then we are hopeful that canned tuna will be placed in the category with the longest tariff phase outs. In and of itself, I am hopeful that this will give American Samoa the time it needs to develop its economy and protect its future for generations to come,” the Congressman concluded.