|| Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that StarKist CEO In-Soo Cho called on Friday April 8 to report back about his recent visit to American Samoa and to thank Faleomavaega for his continued support of StarKist Samoa. Mr. Cho reached out to Faleomavaega prior to his visit to the Territory but the schedules of the Congressman and the CEO conflicted so they agreed to talk upon Mr. Cho’s return.
“Mr. Cho indicated that he had good meetings with local government leaders in American Samoa, and I am pleased by this development,” Faleomavaega said. “Since 2008 when the Dongwon Corporation purchased StarKist for some $363 million, Dongwon’s Chairman Kim Jae-chul has repeatedly stated that StarKist is fully committed to staying in American Samoa for the long-term.”
“StarKist’s previous CEO, Mr. Don Binotto, also offered the same assurances to local and federal leaders on behalf of our workers and Territory. Mr. Binotto also submitted testimony before the U.S. Congress underscoring StarKist’s commitment to American Samoa, and I have every reason to believe under Mr. Cho’s leadership, StarKist will stand on the same principles.”
“For now, I am especially appreciative that StarKist has stood with us and honored its promises to re-hire workers once we were able to stabilize wages in American Samoa. With the support of the U.S. Congress, we were able to stabilize wage rates for 2010 and 2011 and, based on the findings of the GAO which will be issuing a new report in June of this year, I may ask for a delay of increases in 2012. However, under no circumstances will Congress roll-back minimum wage rates. Our workers have received an increase of $1.50 per hour, and I will do all I can to make sure those increases remain in place because the cost of living has increased tremendously and our low-income workers deserve decent wages.”
“While Mr. Cho did express concern about local storage facilities, he said that he is hopeful that ASG will be able to provide some local incentives that will help StarKist remain competitive. I also hope this will be the case since for decades the federal government has provided tens of millions of dollars in federal tax breaks for canneries operating in American Samoa and, in a time of severe budget cuts, the federal government may no longer be able to do so.”
“At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) was also able to provide some $24 million in national emergency grant funds that potentially may be used to rehire or retrain our cannery workers. In May of 2009, I met with U.S. DOL officials regarding national emergency grants in response to Chicken of the Sea’s announced closure and forwarded the information to Governor Togiola in a letter dated May 7, 2009, providing the Governor with the contact information necessary to request national emergency grants and informing the Governor and the public that any request put forward must originate with the Governor.”
“While the national emergency grant for displaced cannery workers at Samoa Packing was not finalized between ASG and the DOL, the DOL informed my office that its regional office in San Francisco preemptively and immediately reached out to ASG in September 2009 when the tsunami struck our islands and informed the Governor’s office that ASG could apply for a disaster national emergency grant.”
“The DOL then assisted ASG in preparing and processing a disaster national emergency grant application, and subsequently ASG was awarded $24 million in October 2009. ASG has used about $12 million. The other $12 million remains available but expires in September 2011.”
“In recent discussions my office has had with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the use of these funds, it is my understanding that ASG is now proposing to use some of the disaster funds for workforce development. Workforce development funds may be used to retrain our cannery workers or provide them with stipends for education, or to create job opportunities in the community and/or other proposed activities. The DOL is keeping me posted and I am hopeful that some of these funds may be used to help rehire cannery workers at StarKist, if possible.”
“Mr. Cho and I also discussed the current status of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty and I informed him that I would be writing an official letter to him requesting how the absence of a treaty might affect the tuna supply at StarKist Samoa. Recently, Papua New Guinea announced that it would not be part of the current negotiations between the U.S. Department of State and the Pacific Island nations.”
“The South Pacific Tuna Treaty is a treaty which has been in place since 1988 between the United States and 16 Pacific Island nations. Under the terms of the Treaty, the U.S. government pays out about $18 million annually to the Pacific Island parties in return for the right of our U.S. tuna boats to fish in the exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the 16 Pacific Island parties to the Treaty. The U.S. tuna boats also pay the Pacific Island parties about $3 million or more per year in base revenues and an additional percentage, depending on the amount of tuna they catch, which equated to about $6 million last year.”
“But what is $18 million from the U.S. government and $6 million from the U.S. tuna boats really worth when the value of the tuna as it moves through the processing and distribution chain may be as much as $400 to $500 million? These are the kinds of questions the 16 Pacific Island parties to the Treaty are asking, and rightfully so.”
“My concern regarding the Treaty is making sure American Samoa has the supply of fish it needs to operate its canneries. Mr. Cho informed me that StarKist has 15 purse seiners and about 20 super longliners. Tri-Marine also has its own fleet of tuna boats and has requested my assistance at the federal level with matters pertaining to the South Pacific Tuna Treaty as well as other issues affecting their operations in American Samoa.”
“As a result, I am working closely with both companies and I appreciate that StarKist is now beginning to get the support its needs from ASG since it is ASG’s responsibility to provide local incentives and tax breaks that are necessary in order for businesses to operate successfully in the Territory.”
“Given the importance of both StarKist and Tri-Marine to American Samoa’s economic well-being, I welcome them, and look forward to continuing our close cooperation,” Faleomavaega concluded.