|June 11, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|WASHINGTON, D.C.— NEW COMPACT AGREEMENT SERIOUSLY THREATENS AMERICAN SAMOA’S TUNA INDUSTRY|
| Congressman Faleomavaega
announced today that there is movement to increase the amount of tuna the
Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands could send to the
U.S. exempt from duty. This has come about as a result of negotiations
to renew the Compact of Free Association and the matter is serious for
“The Compact of Free Association is an agreement that the United States has with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands,” the Congressman said. “The agreement expires this year and the White House Administration has been working to renew the agreement by September of this year. The U.S. State Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative are responsible for negotiating the agreement on behalf of the White House and later the agreement is presented to Congress.”
“The agreement is not yet finalized and, on Wednesday June 18, 2003, the International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific will hold a hearing on reauthorizing the Compacts of Free Association. As the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, it is critical that I attend this hearing to make sure that American Samoa’s tuna operations and interests are protected,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“While the previous Compact exempted duty for up to 10 percent of the United States consumption of canned tuna for the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia collectively, U.S. State Department and USTR officials recently announced that it is their intent to grant each government duty-free treatment for up to 10% which collectively equates to 20% of U.S. consumption.”
“This means that if the Compact is signed up to 10 million cases of canned tuna per year could enter the U.S. duty-free and I am deeply disappointed by this change. This change could spell trouble for American Samoa in the near future and I have voiced my strongest objections in letters I have written to U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and Ambassador Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). I have explained that I am particularly disappointed when I have followed these negotiations closely and was informed in late March by State Department officials that all matters pertaining to canned tuna would remain as in the previous Compacts of Free Association,” Faleomavaega said.
“USTR officials also informed my office that the U.S. tuna industry was consulted in this matter when it was not. To clarify the position of the U.S. tuna industry, I forwarded letters from Chicken of the Sea/Samoa Packing and the U.S. Tuna Foundation (which represents StarKist, Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea and the U.S. Tuna boat owners) to the Secretary and the USTR. These letters clearly show that the U.S. tuna industry was not consulted and is not supportive of this change.”
“Because Congress has no part in the negotiations and can only vote up or down on the agreement, I also informed the Secretary of State and the USTR that there is a tuna loin operation in the Marshall Islands where approximately 10,000 tons of tuna is offloaded per year. Almost all of this fish is caught by foreign flag ships including Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese fishing vessels. In fact, neither the Marshall Islands nor the FSM has substantial or significant fishing fleets and I have expressed my concerns that this newly negotiated agreement is a backdoor approach for foreign countries to send their tuna into the U.S. exempt from duty.”
“Furthermore, I explained that for USTR or State Department officials to suggest to my office that neither the Marshall Islands or FSM has the capacity, labor, land, or fishing grounds to fully take advantage of this preferential treatment for canned tuna suggests to me that there has been a failure to give this matter serious and due consideration. Therefore, I have informed both agencies that the Western Tropical Pacific remains the dominant fishing grounds for lightmeat tuna. As catches decline in other oceans, more and more vessels from other parts of the world are eyeing the Western Pacific Tropic as a possible new home. Many have already arrived from the Atlantic and more are on the way,” Faleomavaega said.
“As of 2001, Taiwan has 53 purse seine vessels and continues to build new and larger vessels. China is planning to build as many as 35 vessels. South Korea has 27 fishing vessels. Japan has 35. The U.S. has 35. Spain has 62 vessels. France has 38. Mexico has 36. Venezuela has 37 and Ecuador has 41. All Others combine for 43. In other words, there are over 400 vessels in the global purse seine fleet and many are now fishing in the Western Pacific.”
“Needless to say, tuna must be offloaded somewhere and as I stated earlier 10,000 tons per year is being offloaded in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands processes 45 tons of loins per day, 300 tons per month, and if converted to cans could easily process about 1 million cases of canned tuna per year under present operations. If a foreign firm set up shop tomorrow,” Faleomavaega said, “the number of cases that could be canned could quadruple overnight and this could lead to insurmountable financial difficulties for American Samoa’s economy which is more than 85% dependent either directly or indirectly on the U.S. tuna and fishing processing industries.”
“Given the seriousness of the current situation, I am pleased that State Department officials informed my office yesterday that it would favorably grant my request and expeditiously work to revise the canned tuna provisions before the Compact of Free Association is submitted to Congress. I am hopeful that the USTR will do the same. However, I will not rest until both the USTR and the State Department are on record supporting this change. This is why I must be present at the hearings on June 18 to make sure that both agencies officially state for the record that the canned tuna provisions will be revised to reflect our past agreement with FSM and the Marshall Islands before this agreement is signed and presented to Congress for a vote.”
“Although I am disappointed that I will be unable to attend the minimum wage hearings to be held in American Samoa during this time, I believe it is critical to protect our tuna industry for generations to come. I also believe it is important to support the workers of American Samoa who are the backbone of our economy. Therefore, I will be submitting a statement in support of wage increases for our cannery workers and government employees who earn much less than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.”
“As I have stated in the past, I support business and the need for business to make a reasonable profit,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “But to paraphrase President Franklin D. Roosevelt, I will not let calamity-howling executives with multi-million dollar incomes tell me that wage increases will have a disastrous effect on the U.S. economy or that we must exploit labor in developing countries to remain competitive. As Senator Borah from Idaho said during the 1937 fair labor standards debate, “whether North or South, East or West, there [is] a standard of living, and we ought to recognize that and fix a minimum wage upon that basis.” Sixty-six years later, I believe the same thought applies and I believe it is time for wages to be increased in American Samoa.”
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