SOLTAI TUNA MAY REOPEN SOON IN SOLOMON ISLANDS, BUT MINE, PLANTATIONS TAKING

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (March 28, 2001 - Solomon Star/PINA Nius Online)---The Solomon Islands government is optimistic that Soltai will soon start the production of canned tuna products in Noro.

It will continue from where Solomon Taiyo left off when it closed due to the Guadalcanal-Malaita ethnic conflict.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said: "The government is committed to open the Noro factory and, if things continue at the rate they are going, Soltai should open its doors next month with Western Province as a new shareholder holding the 49% previously held by Maruha Corporation of Japan."

As for the re-opening of the gold mine at Gold Ridge in Central Guadalcanal, the Prime Minister said that negotiations are still progressing with various parties.

"The Ministry of Mines and Energy has had some positive rounds of talks with Delta Gold of Australia and landowners and good progress has been made so far," he said.

Sogavare said the government believes in opening the mine first, then negotiating landowners’ grievances over shares and other corporate matters.

He said the reason for re-opening the mine first was to assist the country in earning foreign reserve funding.

He added that the mine now is expected to re-open during the later part of this year.

As for Solomon Islands Plantations Limited, Sogavare said that landowners are willing to have it re-open as soon as possible.

However, the slowness now comes from the partner Commonwealth Development Corporation, which has still not decided whether to continue involvement in the undertaking.

"Despite the unclear response from CDC, the government continues to probe into the issue of re-opening the plantation," the Prime Minister said.

Soltai

The future of Soltai depends very much on the price of fish in the world markets.

Solomon Taiyo decided to close down its tuna operation because it felt that there would not be a bright future in the company if the price of fish continued to drop and the ethnic row continued to threaten its operations.

While there is good potential for its canned tuna in European markets, the standards required to produce these products in Noro need to be improved.

This means that more money has to be pumped in from shareholders to improve the standards in the Noro factory.

The requirements to serve the European markets are high, due to competition from other countries.

The government may not hold on to its Soltai shares much longer, and if it decides to sell its shares it will do so to a foreign company.

The new group would manage the company in partnership with Western Province, said a government insider.

Spokesmen from Western Province government said that the main obstacles to re-opening the Noro cannery are the landowners.

They have threatened to boycott the company’s re-opening if they are not included in future negotiations.

"The future of this company will greatly affect the local people and that is why landowners must be included in any negotiations," said a representative of landowners.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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