Secrecy Of 2Samoa Talks Criticizes By Am. Samoa Official

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Governor’s Executive Assistant wishes media could be present

By Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Dec. 24, 2015) – The governor’s Executive Assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira was not happy that the 2Samoa Talks were conducted behind closed doors. During the talks last week, the media was asked to leave after the opening statements, but that was nothing new, as that is how the talks have been conducted in past years. However, Iu said one of the pillars of the Lolo and Lemanu Administration is transparency and the closed-door meeting contradicts that belief.

Iu responding to Samoa News queries about why the secrecy, said that the DOC Director Keniseli Lafaele should have not asked the media to leave, noting "that shouldn’t have happened."

Meanwhile the big increase in freight rates for packages sent to Samoa via Polynesian Airlines was among the issues noted by Lafaele during his opening remarks and the response by Polynesian Airlines CEO Seiuli Alvin Tuala gave some interesting insights into Poly’s future plans and the status of tourism in Samoa.

Samoa’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry & Labor CEO Peseta Margaret Malua and DOC Director Keniseli Lafaele stated last Thursday at the opening that both Samoas are aiming to come up with a draft document that would guide the trade of goods and services, labor, investment and other economic fields between Samoa and American Samoa. However, at this point, no draft agreement has been issued.

Peseta said one of the expected outcomes is a list of goods on which each side wants to reduce excise taxes when exported across the water. According to Peseta, they will discuss in detail what they want to see in a closer economic partnership as "we are one, so we need to work together to determine the economic needs of the two Samoas and how we achieve this."

She further stated the need to focus more economic interest in trade, goods and services, employment opportunities and investment opportunity between the two Samoas. She admitted that there will be a lot of disagreements, however she knows they will come to an agreement and find a way, because as always "we are one, we are Samoans."

Director Lafaele acknowledged and recognized the progress made even though they haven't been meeting on a regular basis, however the private sectors are moving forward. "I recognize the efforts by the two respective Chambers of Commerce from Samoa and American Samoa for the fine work that they do. A lot of progress have been made in the area of business and a lot of Samoan businesses have set up shop here including the SSAB … despite the challenges."

He further acknowledged Polynesian Airlines’ service and noted that there are hiccups and that recently someone complained directly to the DOC regarding the big increase of freight fees by Polynesian. The caller said the cost of the freight is more than the value of what was in the package sent to Samoa.

Responding to the comments, Polynesian Airlines CEO Seiuli stated that he will look into the matter. During his presentation at the Talks, Seiuli indicated how American Samoa and Polynesian can work together. He noted that the shared opportunities between the two Samoa’s is to build a strong tourism office that should be focused on the USA and China.

He said Samoans make up the biggest proportion of the Pacific Island American population. According to the Census in 2010 over 184,000 Samoans live in America that more than half the 220,000 Samoans abroad. He further stated that the loss of direct service to the U.S. has reduced their ability to service cultural and community needs.

He noted that Samoa’s Faleolo International Airport APW is wide-body ready, and it’s USTSA compliant and supports full-payload operations.

He noted that Samoa has ongoing marketing programs in China, South Korea, USA, Ukraine and Europe — and according to Seiuli, Samoa will be marketing in Japan in the next Fiscal Year.

"In terms of destination marketing support, it's already happening," he said and noted that Samoa has an ambassador based in Japan with a diplomatic office.

He said Polynesian is seeking a partnership with ASG that is financially viable and self-sustaining. "It’s strategically important for trade growth and it will provide surety of air services and open up both islands to the world."

According to tourism/economist analysis, Samoa is teetering on the verge of becoming a major Pacific island tourist destination and he acknowledged ASG’s continued support and efforts for cabotage waivers.

The event was held at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium, in Utulei, hosted by the Department of Commerce.

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