NEARLY EVERYONE AGREES: VISA WAIVERS RIGHT FOR

Commentary

GUAM

By Guam Sen. Tina Rose Muña Barnes

People disagree; this is a common and healthy thing. It can make headlines, it's fun to watch, and it can, when done with respect, help good ideas become better over time. Though it isn't as provocative, cooperation is refreshing and it can work.

By now, most of you should be asking what this has to do with the China Russia visa-waiver program. The answer is: nearly everything. At a time when conflict is more prevalent than consensus, nearly every interested party agrees that the full implementation of the China Russia visa-waiver program, as passed by Congress in Public Law 110-229, is good for Guam. Nearly everyone agrees that Guam needs to create jobs and expand our economic base. And nearly everyone believes that access to Chinese outbound travelers can only help us accomplish those goals.

Unfortunately, the age of the Japanese population, combined with recent natural disasters and economic uncertainty throughout the world, has resulted in less outbound travel to Guam over time.

During its peak period in the 1990s, Guam's share of the outbound Japanese market reached approximately 6 percent. Today, our share of the same market has declined to about 4 percent, representing a 33-percent decline in market strength. To grow, Guam must be given the opportunity to expand and tap into the economic potential of emerging markets in China and Russia -- just as we were allowed to do with Japan in the late 1980s.

Without the full implementation of Public Law 110-229 or the issuance of the same parole authority already granted to the CNMI, the singular nature of our tourism economy ties Guam's economic well-being to the fate of one nation. The provisions that created the Marianas' visa-waiver program were intended to provide for economic development, not economic disparity. And yet Guam must deal with the effects of that disparity today.

While Chinese visitors make up only 10 percent of the CNMI's tourism base, these visitors spend 50 percent more than their Japanese counterparts, resulting in an additional $38 million to the CNMI economy. At a time when the insular governments are being asked to decrease our dependence on federal dollars, the full implementation of a China Russia visa-waiver program for Guam is both economically imperative and well-timed.

What's ironic is that prior to the passage of Public Law 110-229, Guam's original visa-waiver program would have automatically included China because of rising economic growth there and falling visa declination results.

Our unceasing call for the full implementation of the China Russia visa-waiver program for Guam is also in line with the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, the administration's call for increased tourism to the United States, and the desire to reduce our nation's trade deficit with China.

Though delays surrounding the implementation of congressional intent can be occasionally frustrating and disheartening, we know that executive branch agencies must be extremely diligent during these difficult times. Yet, in the course of the last three years, Guam has been visited by several China-based charter flights bringing a total of 4,200 Chinese citizens to Guam, without a single overstay or asylum concern.

It is my hope that the unified support of the Legislature, memorialized in Resolution 31-74, the ongoing work of the administration, our congresswoman and our private sector will allow us to fully implement the mandates of Public Law 110-229.

Doing so will inspire a new era of prosperity for Guam's people and earn, for many, the thanks of future generations.

Tina Rose Muña Barnes is a senator in the 31st Guam Legislature and chairs its Municipal Affairs, Tourism, Housing & Recreation Committee.

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