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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 30, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---A national economic assessment of the Marshal Islands that could play a pivotal role in negotiations for future aid from the United States is nearing completion, following a seminar for island business and government leaders.

Supported by the Asia Development Bank, the study is slated to outline short and long-term economic development priorities for the Marshall Islands. A team of ADB Consultants has been meeting for the past several weeks with government, private sector and non-governmental organization leaders to develop recommendations that reflect priority needs in the islands, according to study leader Tony Hughes, who is based in the Solomon Islands.

The Marshall and the U.S. are in the midst of talks to negotiate new aid provisions to replace Compact of Free Association economic provisions which expire at the end of 2001. With the Marshalls facing substantial criticism from certain U.S. Congressional leaders over the use of about $1 billion in U.S. assistance since 1986, local leaders have stressed the importance of a frank economic survey for the country as a basis for future funding from the U.S.

"Without a clear idea of where we have been and where we would like to see the Marshall Islands in this new Millennium, we may not be able to seize and fully utilize those opportunities that may not present themselves again," President Kessai Note told a government-private sector meeting on the study this week. "I am talking about the Compact negotiations with the United States and, of course, the other vital assistance that is provided by our development partners such as Japan, (Taiwan) and the ADB."

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