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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (February 4, 2001 - PIDP/CPIS)---Any non-U.S. flagged fishing vessel that off-loads its catch in American Samoa will be subject to an import duty of 20 percent per ton of the purchase price for light meat tuna.

This is according to a legislative proposal by Governor Tauese Sunia’s administration.

The proposed new fee, submitted to the Legislature early last week for consideration, will be imposed on light meat tuna off-loaded in the territory, which enters the harbor aboard or was initially caught by a purse seiner vessel that is not registered in the U.S.

Acting Governor Togiola Tulafono said the new fees will provide an additional source of revenue for the government and increased economic benefits for the Territory as a whole.

But the legislation primarily "is intended to stimulate use of our port by the U.S. purse seiner fleet, which is currently lying idle due to the depressed prices prevailing in the tuna market," he said.

"As long as the fleet remains idle, we lose fuel tax revenues and the many other economic benefits associated with an active purse seiner fleet," Togiola explained.

"An active U.S. purse seiner fleet not only broadens our general tax base, but also is of significant benefit to our local vendors."

Petroleum Officer Sione Kava said the purse seiner fleets are among the largest local consumers of diesel fuel, noting that one vessel takes on about 150,000 gallons.

However, the downward turn in tuna prices worldwide has forced about 26 local vessels to remain tied at Pago Pago Harbor for the past several months, having an adverse effect on the local economy.

The proposed law states that "in addition to other applicable charges, there is imposed an import duty of 20 percent per ton of the purchase price, including costs of insurance and freight, of light meat tuna off-loaded in the Territory which entered the harbor aboard or was initially caught by any purser vessel not of United States registration."

Considered light meat tuna, under the proposed law, is "yellow fin and skipjack."

The legislation also gives the governor power to order "increased, decreased, or supplemented" duty.

By giving the governor this power, "the measure would have the flexibility to allow adjustment according to economic and market conditions," Togiola pointed out.

According to the Lieutenant Governor, this type of assessment already exists in Korea, Mexico and the European Union countries, which have adopted similar charges to protect their local fishing interests.

Togiola also noted that by virtue of the Nicholson Act, the U.S. prohibits landing of fish harvested by foreign flagged vessels except by treaty or convention.

Due to the urgent need to increase government revenues and to improve the general economic condition of the territory, the legislation calls for the proposed law to become effective upon passage by the Fono and approved by the governor.

American Samoa’s two largest private employers, StarKist Samoa and COS Samoa Packing, declined to comment on the legislation but are reviewing the matter.

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