Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is aggressively fighting to exclude tuna from the Thailand Free Trade Agreement and is working with StarKist to protect American Samoa’s economy and the jobs of more than 3,000 workers.
“American Samoa’s economy is more than 85% dependent, either directly or indirectly, on two United States tuna canneries (StarKist and Chicken of the Sea) which employ more than 5,150 people or 74 percent of the private sector workforce,” the Congressman said. “As was repeatedly stated during the Andean Trade Preference (ATPA) debate, a decrease in production or departure of one or both of the two canneries in American Samoa could devastate the local economy resulting in massive layoffs and insurmountable financial difficulties.”
“Given that Thailand supplies the U.S. with more tuna than any other foreign nation, American Samoa cannot afford to take this trade agreement lightly. Neither can we afford to take lightly global tuna practices and policies that threaten the future of our economy for generations to come.”
“While the U.S. continues to lower tariff rates for foreign countries, the Andean countries and ASEAN nations are increasing their tuna production and fleet capacity. Today, Ecuador and Colombia have the capacity to jointly process 2,250 tons of tuna per day or 48.6 million cases per year. Given that total U.S. consumption is only about 48 million cases per year, the Andean countries have the production capacity to supply the entire U.S. market and wipe out the economy of American Samoa. If the wage differential between American Samoa ($3.66 per hour) and the Andean countries ($0.60 per hour) is also considered, it is reasonable to conclude that American Samoa will not be able to fairly compete against Andean competition if U.S. tariff rates are reduced or eliminated.”
“The same can be said if tariff rates are reduced or eliminated for the ASEAN nations, including Thailand. ASEAN nations are the largest foreign suppliers of tuna to the U.S. market and Thailand supplies the U.S. with more tuna than any other foreign nation,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “While some contend that Thailand and other ASEAN member nations have been disadvantaged as a result of the ATPDEA, I have written to the U.S. Trade Representative and key members of Congress to set the record straight.”
“From January 2003 to August 2003, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand sent a combined total of more than 3 million kilos of albacore tuna into the U.S. The Andean countries sent a combined total of 408,000 kilos. From January 2003 to August 2003, ASEAN member nations sent more than 21 million kilos of lightmeat tuna to the U.S. The Andean countries sent less than 4 million kilos. Given these facts, it is a stretch of the imagination for anyone to assert that the economies of ASEAN member nations have suffered as a result of the ATPDEA. It is also unfair for the U.S. to reduce or eliminate tariff rates for Thailand based on this faulty premise.”
“Clearly, duty-free treatment for canned or pouched tuna products poses a tremendous threat to the stability of the U.S. tuna and fishing processing industries and to the economy of American Samoa. Although the pouched tuna business is currently a niche market estimated to be about 6% of the total tuna business, conservative estimates suggest that the pouched business will grow three, five, and ten years at 75%, 50%, and 25% respectively. This equates to 8% share by 2005, 12.2% by 2007, and about 15.4% of total U.S. tuna trade by 2012.”
“If pouched tuna from Thailand is granted duty preference, it will have the same impact on pouched tuna as imports from Thailand have had on canned tuna pricing which is a 53% reduction since 1980 when adjusted for inflation. Put another way, pouched tuna prices will drop, tuna consumption will switch from cans to pouches, and pouched tuna will become a mainstream rather than a niche product.”
“Given the adverse impact this will have on American Samoa and in a letter dated April 6, 2004, I have asked the U.S. Trade Representative to keep in place what Congress agreed to last year during the Andean trade debate and that is to exclude canned tuna from preferential trade treatment and include a rules of origin provision on any and all pouched tuna permitted to enter duty-free. Further, and in the case of Thailand, I have requested that all albacore tuna products be excluded from consideration and that lightmeat tuna products processed in pouches be kept under the current tariff structure until December 31, 2009 and then any duty granted be phased in from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014.”
“I believe these exclusions and inclusions should apply to any agreement that may be considered by the United States, including the Thailand Free Trade agreement,” Faleomavaega said. “I especially believe rules of origin are necessary to protect our U.S. tuna fishing fleet which is based in the Western Pacific Tropic. The position of the U.S. boat owners was recognized in the duty privileges that were given to the Andean countries. ATPDEA regulations require that the fish used to pack duty free pouches has to either be from U.S. or Andean flag vessels, and I believe rules of origin provisions should be included in any and all future trade agreements.”
“In the end, it is the people of American Samoa who will suffer economic loss as a result of the inclusion of canned or pouched tuna in U.S. free trade agreements. To offset our loss, I am hopeful that in the case of Thailand the U.S. will support the precedent already established by P.L. 107-210, the Andean Trade Preference Act, in addition to the requests I have made that all albacore tuna products be excluded from consideration and that lightmeat tuna products processed in pouches be kept under the current tariff structure until December 31, 2009 and then any duty granted be phased in from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014.”
“On May 4, 2004, I am scheduled to appear before the International Trade Commission to testify in support of American Samoa and against the Thailand Free Trade Agreement. I welcome the opportunity to make American Samoa’s position known and you can be sure that I will do what is right for the future of our Territory no matter what. Additionally, I will also continue to point out that American Samoa cannot depend forever on the U.S. tuna fishing and processing industries. As I have pointed out many times over the years, American Samoa must diversify its economy.”
“From FY 1995 to 2001 or in a period of seven years, the federal government sent more than $1 billion to American Samoa. With this kind of federal funding and support from our friends in Congress, I believe we can agree that we have the resources we need to build a better future. For now, I commend Governor Togiola and I thank the people of American Samoa for standing with me and working together to protect the jobs of more than 3,000 workers in American Samoa. I also thank StarKist for standing with us in opposing tariff relief for Thailand. Our work is not done but I am hopeful that with your support and prayers we will be successful,” the Congressman concluded.