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HONOLULU, Hawaii (September 25, 1997 - PIDP/CPIS)---Efforts by the U.S. government to implement additional federal immigration, wage, and labor laws in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. territory north of Guam that has been exempt from their enforcement, are not supported by the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association.

Requiring them now, said Association Secretary Carmen Gaskins during a recent visit to Honolulu, will likely destroy the garment industry and the bustling CNMI economy.

Gaskins said CNMI garment manufacturing, which began in 1984 and now involves 20 factories, produces primarily knit shirts for the U.S. mainland. The industry provides at least $50 million a year in direct and indirect revenues to the CNMI government, she stressed, covering at least a third of Commonwealth government employees' salaries.

Charges by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has federal jurisdiction over the territory, that the garment industry's employment of primarily aliens from China and other parts of Asia is causing the loss of U.S. jobs, Gaskins stressed, are not correct.

The Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association finds, instead, she said, that any loss of garment manufacturing jobs in the United States probably has more to do with the North American Free-Trade Agreement, involving Mexican workers, than the CNMI.

"We have not seen any statistics which show the direct relationship between the level of employment and activity of the textile industry in the CNMI and the number of jobs lost in the United States in the same industry," she said.

"If the CNMI garment industry is destroyed by implementing more federal legal requirements," Gaskins noted, "the garment jobs will immediately transfer to Asian markets, resulting in no employment gain in the United States."

The special immigration and labor law concessions enjoyed by the Northern Marianas, have permitted the Commonwealth to become economically viable, said Gaskins. "Changing the rules now could destroy the CNMI's economic success."

Last month, a multi-agency Washington delegation, led by Allen Stayman, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, visited the Commonwealth and found "an unhealthy, unsustainable dependence" on "virtually unlimited numbers of temporary alien workers."

The team returned to the U.S. capital with plans for the federal government to bring the CNMI in compliance with immigration, wage, and other labor laws already in effect throughout the remainder of the United States and its territories.

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