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New Zealand political, business leaders looking for trade

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News) - Officials of the New Zealand trade delegation from Manukau City met Friday with three lawmakers before the group left Saturday, after what has been described as a "successful" visit to American Samoa.

Sen. Fuamatu J.V. Fuamatu, chairman of the Senate Wildlife Committee; Sen. Utu Abe Malae, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee; and Rep. Alexander Eli Jennings, chairman of the House Commerce Committee represented the Fono during the meeting held at the Senate Conference Room.

At the meeting were Manukau City Mayor Len Brown, Deputy Mayor Gary Troup and Councilman A. Anae (who is Samoan) along with Chamber of Commerce president David Robinson.

Fuamatu thanked the Manukau city leaders for taking the time to learn and share with the people of American Samoa. He told the delegation there are many ways Manukau City and its business community can partner with American Samoan businesses as well the government.

"When economic times are tough, you have chosen to visit us and we are grateful," said Fuamatu, according to minutes of the meeting.

The Fono delegation noted New Zealand has been a major trading partner of American Samoa for at least 80 years, the Hellaby brand of pisupo being just one of the iconic Kiwi products in the past, with construction companies like Fletcher Construction and McConnell Dowell carrying the New Zealand flag today in the territory.

Brown explained to the lawmakers that Manukau City — New Zealand’s third largest city — is home to about 370,000 and is ethnically diverse with a large Samoan population as well as other Pacific islanders.

Manukau is also home to the Auckland International Airport as well as the Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), whose two officials were part of the delegation and met with ASCC officials.

The institute is responsible for educating and training the elite group of apprentices from the American Samoa Power Authority in the early nineties who now help to keep the power plant running smoothly, said Utu, one of ASPA’s former chief executive officers.

Utu said these were the first American Samoans to be educated and trained in a technical school in New Zealand. Other educational institutions such as Auckland University of Technology, Unitech and the University of Canberra produced engineers and technicians for the authority’s various divisions and management.

In 1996, the LBJ Tropical Medical Center initiated its "health tourism" program with New Zealand, where patients from American Samoa were referred to New Zealand for treatment. This has proven to be a successful medical care program over the years, said Utu, who headed LBJ during that period.

"We are thankful for New Zealand’s contribution to our utility services and to our healthcare," Utu told the New Zealand delegation.

Jennings described for the Manukau officials the challenges of developing tourism including transportation between the various islands of the Territory. Strict cabotage rules were identified as one of the main barriers to the problem, as well as the need to increase air passenger count to the territory.

The Manukau officials emphasized the importance of establishing a flat tax on businesses that cannot be negotiated or applied or changed unilaterally.

If American Samoa wants to attract businesses and therefore increase the number of jobs, it must provide a level playing field and minimize loopholes, according to notes of the meeting provided to Samoa News.

For example, if the tax on business gross profits is 30 percent, then it must be understood (transparent) by all businesses, including those from off-island, that is the rate and there are no special concessions.

Robinson stated the present tax system calls for a tax on revenues, on money borrowed by foreign companies, and also on dividends, adding the net result is that American Samoa levies the highest business taxes in the entire region.

The Fono members agreed the current bill pending in both the Senate and House calling for a leveling of the playing field, is the right step in making taxation fair for all companies.

This measure from the administration, would remove the 30 percent withholding tax for foreign owned corporations doing business in the territory when borrowing money from their affiliates in other U.S. territories such as Guam.

At the end of the meeting, the Manukau delegation offered, "To follow up in the area of health care, efficient diesel engines, hydraulic engineering, alternative energy development and the handling and re-refining of waste oil," said Utu.

Among business representatives in the delegation are those involved in areas such as diesel engines, hydraulic engineering, architecture, diary products, trailers, freight forwarding and food exporting.

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