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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Office of the Secretary Washington, D.C.

NEWS RELEASE March 25, 1999


Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget John Berry, filling-in for Secretary Bruce Babbitt, spoke yesterday to the members of the newly-created American Samoa Economic Advisory Commission telling them that Secretary Babbitt is enthusiastic about the commission’s role in addressing the vital economic issues facing American Samoa.

"We look forward to your recommendations as you address the need for creating private-sector jobs, ways to help improve the territorial government’s deficit, and the impact of changing trade and tax regulations on Samoa manufacturing," Berry said.

The advisory commission was created late last year by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt after consultations with Tauese Sunia, Governor of American Samoa, and with Congressman Eni E. H. Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa. The Commission is chaired by the former Governor of Hawai‘i, John D. Waihee. In opening remarks chairman Waihee noted that "the Commission should help American Samoa move ahead toward increased prosperity."

Other members of the Advisory Commission include former Congressman Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-CA), Togiola T.A. Tulafono, Lt. Governor of American Samoa, Joseph M. Pereira, a Samoan businessman chosen from among three names suggested by the Samoan legislature, Arthur C. Campbell, Deputy Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Chester J. Straub, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, the delegate from American Samoa, is an ex-officio member of the panel.

Former Congressman Lagomarsino knows first hand, the economic challenges of the island economies from his years of public service on what is now the Resources Committee of the House of Representatives. "There is a vital need for a comprehensive business plan," said Lagomarsino. "a plan that will take into account Samoa’s assets, and its beauty, as well as the problems inherent in creating economic activity thousands of miles from the nearest major markets."

Pereira talked about the dual needs to diversify American Samoa’s economy while retaining the two large tuna canneries that currently employ 4,500 workers. "We are living in a fast-changing world and we cannot continued to count on the security of trade arrangements that have, in the past, helped our tuna canneries remain competitive in the American market."

More than half of the canned tuna consumed in the United States is caught in the Pacific and then shipped, sometimes for thousands of miles, to Pago Pago for canning. Although most of the tuna is caught outside U.S. territory, the fact that it is canned on American soil means it can enter the U.S. quota and duty-free, an advantage to the tuna firms.

Until a few days ago it had been expected that Congressman Faleomavaega and Lt. Governor Tulafono would attend the meeting; however, the death of former Prime Minister Tofilau Eti Alesana of the Independent State of Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) caused a change in their plans. The Congressman attended the funeral in Apia as the Presidential envoy and as the representative of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert while the Lt. Governor was in Apia as the representative of the American Samoa Government.

Attending the organizational meeting, in addition to the five members, were Allen P. Stayman, Director of the Office of Insular Affairs, and Nikolao I. Pula, Jr., OIA’s Samoa (and Palau) desk officer. The work of the Commission is funded by a technical assistance grant from OIA.

The Commission will examine all aspects of the Samoan economy and plot a course for the expansion of the island economy. Among the areas to be covered will be tourism, manufacturing (other than the tuna canneries), fishing, agriculture, and international trade.

American Samoa is the only populated U.S. territory south of the equator. In 1900 its then ruling chiefs voted to join the United States political family.

For additional information, contact: John Wright U.S. Department of the Interior Office of the Secretary Tel: (202) 208-6416

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