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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (March 23, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---The head of one of the largest banks in Hawaii said it’s a challenge to get the word out to the rest of the world regarding the many opportunities the Pacific region has to offer.

Larry Johnson, chairman and CEO of Pacific Century Financial Corporation and Bank of Hawaii, spoke to Pacific leaders at an informal briefing and networking session on the Pacific Islands at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort.

The briefing was part of the Pacific Basin Economic Council (PBEC) meeting taking place in Honolulu this week.

Johnson said the Pacific is rich in natural resources, such as fishing, and has opportunity for tourism development.

"It’s been a part of the world that has been very important for us," said Johnson. "Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of U.S. companies who have made such a commitment to the Pacific Islands. It’s unfortunate the U.S. doesn’t recognize the importance of the Pacific."

Bank of Hawaii has a large presence in the Pacific that was started 42 years ago. BOH has 65 offices and branches in the region, including American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Saipan, Tahiti and Tonga.

The company has assets of about $2 billion in the region and 1,000 employees.

"It’s been a communication challenge to get the word out to the rest of the world that there are opportunities," he said. "We’re trying to communicate what the Pacific is all about."

Johnson noted there are commissions and organizations that are Asia Pacific related, "but most people are only interested in the Asia portion of those commissions," he said.

Johnson said Bank of Hawaii not only plans to maintain its existing presence in the region, but also grow. He admits, however, he doesn’t expect to see huge growth.

Said Johnson: "We’re proud of our relationship with the Pacific Islands and believe there’s a future."

Wali Osman, BOH vice president and regional economist, said Bank of Hawaii can only do well if it connects to the rest of the world.

"Our goal is to connect the Pacific Islands with the rest of the world and provide information showing there are viable markets in the Pacific," Osman said.

He noted that income in the Pacific has not kept up with population growth.

"Filling the information gap is the first step at filling the income gap," he said.

The five-day PBEC meeting held at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki concluded Wednesday.

PBEC is a group of influential corporate leaders from 20 countries in Asia, the Pacific, and North and South America whose mission is to promote trade and investment. Together, the combine revenues of these PBEC companies total $4 trillion.

To learn more about PBEC, visit its website at http://www.pbec.org.

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