For the past several weeks, StarKist and Faleomavaega have been working together at the federal level to find real solutions for American Samoa’s tuna cannery workers and the U.S. tuna fishing and processing industries. Today, Congressman Faleomavaega and StarKist are seeking local input for their new proposal to generate economic development in American Samoa.
Known as ASPIRE, or the American Samoa Protection of Industry, Resources, and Employment, the proposal focuses on the need to create an environment where the fundamental advantages held by American Samoa, and the precious waters of the South Pacific that surround the Territory, can once again be leveraged for the benefit of the people of American Samoa while creating a sustainable tuna industry that can grow and compete in a global economy.
In a letter dated July 13, 2009, Faleomavaega presented the proposal to the Governor and Fono, requesting their input and support. “At this time, no bill has been offered as we are seeking the input of the Governor and the Fono before sharing this proposal with the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Congress,” Faleomavaega said.
“It is a well known fact that our tuna industry faces competitive pressure from foreign countries that pay workers $0.60 and less per hour. With the announced closure of COS/Samoa Packing, the majority of benefits derived from our core asset, tuna, will now go to foreign countries who are aggressively taking market share from us,” the Congressman continued.
“At one time, it was enough that American Samoa was close to the best fishing grounds in the world. But foreign competitors who pay their workers $0.60 and less per hour have forced our key employers, StarKist and COS/Samoa Packing, to make decisions between staying or relocating to more competitive manufacturing locations. COS/Samoa Packing has already chosen to abandon American Samoa.”
“On the other hand, StarKist has chosen to stay and work with us,” Faleomavaega said, “and I thank StarKist for caring enough about our people to stay long enough to determine if we can turn the principles of ASPIRE into law. If we are successful in this undertaking, StarKist will remain. But the stakes are high. We must act with one voice. Dissension and division will bring about failure. Given that we have very limited time to turn these principles into law, I am hopeful that the Fono and the Governor’s office will offer their input and then stand united in supporting ASPIRE.”
“ASPIRE is built on three pillars. One, first and foremost, is to encourage those who process tuna for the U.S. market to do business in American Samoa.”
“Two, we will reward fishing vessels that direct deliver tuna to American Samoa, as direct delivery provides multiplier effects which result in additional revenue for the territory from visitor expenditures on vessel re-fueling, repair, and other shipyard services; stevedores; fishing net repairs; lodging; dining; and a host of other services,” Faleomavaega said. “While having once provided limited economic benefit through indirect deliveries which ensured a constant supply of fish to COS/Samoa Packing, with the closure of Samoa Packing, American Samoa will no longer receive indirect benefits from the large majority of the eligible fleet which fishes under the auspices of a US. flag and U.S. license. The territory will also receive no direct benefits from these boats, as there are decreased volumes of fish being directly-delivered to American Samoa. The present state of economics has made it more profitable for these vessels to deliver their catch to massive carrier ships on the high seas without returning to port. This is creating a downward economic cycle for our local employers and, now, with the closure of COS/Samoa Packing which once made sure that the fleet provided indirect benefits to our economy by supplying fish to its cannery, every tunaboat that flies the U.S. flag must contribute somehow, someway to our economy, and this is why I fully agree with the Governor’s recent announcement to charge a fee for any tunaboat home-ported in American Samoa.”
“Three, we will leverage the resources of American Samoa and the United States to fully benefit American Samoa and the United States. American Samoa has several advantages including our location, fishing licensure and access to our waters, existing tuna processing infrastructure, and a workforce that is experienced in all aspects of the business. To be more competitive, we must leverage these assets and create an environment that encourages the tuna industry not only to stay, but to expand its operations in American Samoa.”
“We must also act immediately and in unity. This is why I have proposed that the Governor, in conjunction with my office and the Fono, establish a Taskforce to bring vested stakeholders together for purposes of discussing the principles of ASPIRE which would reward sellers and buyers of fish delivered to American Samoa.”
“After discussions with the Governor and the Fono, I will be returning to Washington to meet with the U.S. Department of the Interior. I will also be seeking the support of Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Chairman George Miller, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other Members of Congress because unified support will be our only chance for enactment. But even with unified support at the federal and local level, the way forward will not be easy, especially considering the unprecedented economic crisis our nation is facing,” Faleomavaega said.
“While we know the challenges ahead will be difficult, StarKist stands with the Congressman as we work together to garner local and federal support to turn ASPIRE into law,” Mr. Don Binotto, President and CEO of StarKist, stated. “We believe the ASPIRE proposal will allow StarKist and American Samoa to become globally competitive again, supporting fishing and tuna processing. Furthermore, the proposal, if enacted, can spur economic growth for American Samoa. Without policy changes such as those offered by this proposal, American Samoa is simply no longer competitive on a global basis.”
“Even though we are temporarily staying while Congress has a chance to consider this proposal, as we move forward, we will continue to manage our facility to make it as cost efficient and competitive as possible and, to that end, StarKist will continue to put further cost-saving measures in place, specifically, additional workforce reductions over the next several months,” Mr. Binotto continued.
“As a member of the community since the 1960s, we value the dedication the American Samoan people have demonstrated to StarKist for decades, and we recognize that our success is in large part due to their hard work and commitment. We are optimistic that, if the principles of ASPIRE are enacted into law, operations in American Samoa will once again be globally competitive and the island will be reinvigorated as a hub for the tuna industry and business in general, and we are committed to working with your Congressman, Governor and Fono in doing all we can to achieve this goal,” Mr. Binotto concluded.