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By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 31, 1997 - Agence France Presse)--- Tuvalu is to sell passports and expects to be making around 7.3 million U.S. dollars annually within two years, the country's Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu says.

His move comes after the Polynesian nation earlier this year called a halt to a controversial revenue earner -- a worldwide telephone sex line service.

That business, which utilized Tuvalu's "688" area code, was earning about 10 percent of the country's government budget but after strong moral objections from the local churches Tuvalu is ending the operation.

Tuvalu joins Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Tonga, which have all dabbled in the passport business.

Paeniu told the latest edition of the Canberra based Pacific Report that a Tuvalu passport would sell for 11,000 U.S. dollars per person, or 22,000 U.S. dollars per family.

He said they had talked for many years about the business but had lacked a framework for it.

"We do have that framework now. I am more amenable to the concept and confident that it will work satisfactorily.

"We are not really selling our identity. This is a business development scheme that is very Tuvaluan."

He told Pacific Report the main demand was expected from China.

"We are taking steps to avoid associated risk; we will be monitoring very closely and if it brings the prospect of damage to our reputation we will take appropriate action."

Kiribati President Teburoro Tito told Pacific Report that his government made 1.5 million Australian dollars from passport sales.

They sell at 18,000 Australian dollars each and buyers undertake obligations to invest in Kiribati.

Australia, New Zealand and the United States do not recognize the passports.

"Our investors will have to avoid Australia and New Zealand travel," Tito told Pacific Report.

"But the Australian Government, I think, has accepted the fact that we are entitled to do what is good for Kiribati, just as they are entitled to do what is good for Australia."

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