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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Mar. 20) - The local economy, which is still reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 1997 Asian currency crisis, is expected to take another hit, this time from the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

"When the war breaks out, there’s no question about it — the economy will suffer and our only hope is that it will not last long," said Ron Sablan, senior vice chairman of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Tourists may stay away from the CNMI and local businesses will see a drop in sales as a result, according to other local businessmen.

"Visitors to our islands will postpone their trips. They’re nervous and they would just stay home and be with their family — that’s the main impact to our tourism-based economy of this war," said Efrain F. Camacho, president of EFC Architects & Engineers and former president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.

He, however, said that shipment of goods to the CNMI may not be interrupted.

Camacho said the local economy would not have to deal with a lengthy tourism slump if the war ends quickly.

"Otherwise, it would affect the availability of goods and more importantly, consumer confidence. Because of all these uncertainties, people are wary to spend their money," said Jay B. Jones, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and general manager of Triple J Motors.

Clarence Tenorio Sr., president of J.C. Tenorio Enterprises which owns Joeten stores and Price Costco, said he is "very much concerned" about possible "panic buying."

He added, "So far, we haven’t seen any (panic buying). We still have a lot of stock in Joeten stores and Price Costco."

Tenorio, however, said that if there are any signs of panic buying, they may have to limit the items being sold to customers.

"We don’t want them to be greedy. We want to share the goods with everyone," he said.

The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands said the war may result in the cancellation of trips to the CNMI and hotel bookings.

"We haven’t even reached the bottom yet, I think, and here comes another major problem," Ron Sablan said. "Tourists may not travel to our islands, especially because we are on U.S. soil. We need to convince people we’re a safe place," he said.

Camacho said "things could be back to normal very quickly" if the war finally breaks out.

"There seems no indication that this will be a drawn out war," he said.

Jones expressed hope that the effect of the war would not be as drastic as the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

March 20, 2003

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