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By Malou L. Sayson

KOROR, Palau (September 13, 2000 - Palau Horizon/PINA Nius Online)---A consortium of about 20 Taiwanese companies has submitted a preliminary proposal to the government of Palau to develop a US$ 125 million industrial park in the state of Ngardmau.

The proposal was received even though the concept of a free trade zone is still only in the early stages of discussion and study.

According to House Speaker Ignacio Anastacio, who is acting as President Kuniwo Nakamura's adviser on the free trade zone development plan, several private groups already have shown interest in investing in the project.

The Nakamura administration is serious in pushing for economic development and laying down the necessary foundation to establish industrial-oriented types of businesses.

The President told Horizon earlier that Palau's economic activity has indeed shifted from the basic to industrial, and that this direction will gain momentum once a free trade zone area is established.

Only recently, Nakamura signed Executive Order No.181, which establishes a joint task force of the national and Ngardmau state governments to address improvements to and study the feasibility of establishing a free trade zone within the state.

The 4th Olbii Era Kelulau, in its 37th Special Session, adopted Resolution 4-17-00, requesting that a task force be formed to study the matter.

The newly created task force is composed of nine members, including Commerce and Trade Minister Okada Techitong; Presidential Chief of Staff Temmy Shmull; Ngardmau Gov. Aichi Kumangai; Ngardmau Chief Beouch Sakaziro; former Ngardmau Gov. John Rechucher; Melekeok Gov. Lazarus Kodep and Ngchesar Gov.Duane Hideo, both of the Association of Governers; Del Lucio Ngiraiwet from the House and Johnny Reklai from the Senate.

Anastacio said the proposed project has been in the making for over a year.

"If it materializes, it is indeed a great leap forward in the right direction as far as our efforts to optimize the allocation and use of our resources. At the same time, it creates an environment for the republic to reach its potential," Anastacio said.

According to Anastacio, a consortium of 20 Taiwanese companies already have submitted a US$ 125 million proposed project to the government of Palau for the development of a 30-hectare industrial park in Ngardmau.

The project would involve tripartite negotiations between the national government, the government of Ngardmau state and private investors.

"It would be just like the Philippines' Subic Bay Economic Processing Zone, which houses various high-end industries. The bottom line is that the republic would be benefiting from duty free and quota-free business activities, which we have worked so hard to be included in the Compact of free Association with the United States," said Anastacio.

The initial position of the task force, Anastacio said, is to engage further in discussions with potential investors to maximize the economic benefits the government would derive from such development.

As per the executive order, the task force "shall undertake a review of existing conditions and facilities of the port of Ngardmau and identify options for expansion and improvement of the port.

"It shall also undertake a comprehensive study of the feasibility and advisability of establishing a free-trade zone in Ngardmau, taking into account all relevant factors, including the existing demand for the use of the Ngardmau port; marine facilities, existing tax, duty and custom regimes in place; the need for legislative changes or initiatives to create free trade zone, among others."

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