|| Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is clearing up some misconceptions about the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.
“Due to varying accounts about the South Pacific Tuna Treaty including one based on a May 30, 2011 press release from the PNA entitled ‘Support our sustainable management of tuna, PNA tells USA,’ which was re- published by Samoa News with additional commentary, I believe it might be helpful to clear up some misconceptions about the South Pacific Tuna Treaty,” Faleomavaega said.
“First, in its release, the PNA implied that the Treaty is lacking because it was negotiated during the Cold War. While I agree that the Treaty is lacking, the Cold War was about military tension and economic competition between the Communist world and the democratic world. The South Pacific Tuna Treaty had nothing to do with either, and the Treaty has since been renewed twice – once in 1993 (after the Cold War) and again in 2002. Moreover, the U.S. and Pacific Island nations have long been friends and allies. We stuck together during WWII. We’ve stuck together through the war on terror. And we will stick together through these Treaty negotiations to address and resolve what is lacking.”
“Two, when the Treaty was first negotiated it was negotiated for purposes of providing U.S. foreign assistance to the Pacific Island Parties while also providing a tangible benefit to the U.S. By the time the Treaty was renewed in 2002 until now, the U.S. provided the Pacific Island Parties about $18 million annually in exchange for our U.S. tuna boats to fish in the Treaty area. The U.S. tuna boats also paid a collective, not individual, fixed rate of about $3 million per year, and above that amount depending on the amount of fish caught and the value of it.”
“We have since learned that according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS) the U.S. tuna boats harvest about $250 million worth of tuna annually but the value of the tuna as it moves through the processing and distribution chain may be as much as $500 million or more. Given that the PNA controls about 25-30% of the world’s supply of tuna which is primarily in the Treaty Area, I fully agree that the Pacific Island Parties to the Treaty deserve a more equitable distribution of this wealth. $18 million plus the small contribution of the U.S. tuna boat owners is not enough.”
“Three, regarding U.S. interests, when the Treaty first went into effect, all three major brands of canned tuna in the U.S., including StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, purchased their tuna from U.S. tuna boats authorized to fish in the Treaty Area. The fish was then cleaned in the U.S., including American Samoa which was home to the largest cannery in the world because of our close proximity to the fishing grounds.”
“About a decade ago, Bumble Bee adopted a new model of doing business and began outsourcing American resources and jobs, which is contrary to the principles upon which the Treaty was founded. Chicken of the Sea followed suit. Both Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee now have their fish cleaned by low-wage workers in Thailand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Then they send their pre-cleaned fish to canneries in California, Georgia and Puerto Rico where they hire skeletal crews to put the fish into cans as a means of taking advantage of U.S. duty-free laws.”
“The USDA has caught on to this un-American way of doing business and this is why canned tuna processed by Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea does not qualify for the Buy America program. To date, StarKist is the only remaining tuna company that qualifies for the Buy America program because it is the only company that still cleans its tuna in the U.S.A., making StarKist the only tuna company that upholds the intent of the Treaty which is in place to also provide tangible benefits to the U.S.”
“As a result of this transformational shift which has taken place in the U.S. tuna industry during the past decade, foreign nations like Thailand are making billions at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer and Pacific Island Parties. Thailand, which has no fishing fleet of its own, has become the world’s largest producer of canned tuna and controls about 30% of the private-label canned tuna business in the U.S.A. I attribute Thailand’s success, in part, to a loophole in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty.”
“When the Treaty was first negotiated, all U.S. boats off-loaded their fish in American Samoa, i.e. a U.S. port. Today, tuna boats that are 51% U.S. owned like those of the South Pacific Tuna Corporation trans-ship the fish they catch in the Treaty Area to Thailand. Thailand then buys the tuna that comes out of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area and puts our workers out of jobs because Thailand’s fish cleaners, which are paid $0.75 cents and less per hour, directly compete against workers in the U.S. who are paid in accordance with federal minimum wage laws.”
“While it is true that boats from the South Pacific Tuna Corporation at one time indirectly supplied tuna to Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing in American Samoa, this has not been the case since Chicken of the Sea left American Samoa and set up a skeletal crew in Lyons, Georgia. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, of the approximate 300,000 metric tons of tuna that is caught by the U.S. tuna fishing fleet in the South Pacific Tuna Treaty Area, more than 180,000 metric tons is transshipped and outsourced to foreign nations, like Thailand, and this un-American practice of outsourcing U.S. and Pacific Island resources must stop. Thailand should no longer be able to dominate the industry via unfair trade practices.”
“This is why I am hopeful that the U.S. State Department will make a distinction between tuna boats that directly off-load in American Samoa, and those that do not. For boats like those of the South Pacific Tuna Corporation which outsource, I believe their fishing days should be limited, that they should pay increased fees to fish, and that they should be required to pull into U.S. ports once a year for the privilege of the fishing in the Treaty Area. I also believe U.S. tuna boats that direct-deliver to U.S. ports, including American Samoa, should be given preferential treatment for licenses if the U.S. is not able to secure licenses for the entire fleet.”
“Finally, there has been some confusion about our tuna boats and crew exemption. To be clear, crew exemptions are not negotiated as part of the South Pacific Tuna Treaty. Crew exemptions were provided by Congress for all U.S. tuna boats operating in and out of American Samoa. This was done in the Senate by Senator Inouye and the late Senator Ted Stevens. Due to a shortage of licensed U.S. personnel and given that the U.S. tuna fishing fleet had dwindled to about 12 or 14 boats, I supported the Senators’ efforts and the efforts of the U.S. Tuna Foundation because, like them, I believed the exemption would help American Samoa, especially in making sure we had enough fish for our canneries. I also support the U.S. Coast Guard’s position that this exemption only applies for U.S. tuna boats operating in and out of American Samoa.”
“As for the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, as we move forward with negotiations, I will continue to support the intent of the Treaty, which is to provide tangible benefits both to Pacific Island Parties as well as to the U.S. To this end, I will be working with our Pacific Island partners to address what is lacking so that we can create a win-win situation, with our without Papua New Guinea,” Faleomavaega concluded.