Amidst Uncertainty, Am. Samoa Governor Holds State Dinner

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

Territorial leaders thanked; economic challenges discussed

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 7, 2016) – The Lolo Administration is hosting a State Dinner this evening at the Gov. Rex Lee Auditorium, where all sectors of the American Samoa Government have been invited to attend, as the territory begins a New Year — with many uncertainties in the economic future, especially in the cannery and fishing industries.

Responding to inquiries, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said invitees to the State Dinner include lawmakers, cabinet members, chairmen of semi autonomous agencies and their respective executive directors as well as judges from the Judiciary Branch.

The dinner is hosted by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga to bring governmental leadership together. "First to thank them for their contributions to accomplishing our goal of improving the quality of life of our people through improving the economic health of our economy," Iulogologo said. "More importantly, this will provide the forum to share the challenges and uncertainties confronting the territory this year,"

For example, Iulogologo cited StarKist’s announcement last November that the company was immediately implementing a hiring freeze at its American Samoa operation as well as reducing future investment in its StarKist Samoa cannery plant.

Additionally, StarKist, the largest private employer in the territory with some 2,000 workers, has begun to actively explore other manufacturing locations, which include packaging facilities in the US mainland.

"The rise in the minimum wage is not the only factor which prompted StarKist's decision," Iulogologo said. "The dynamics of the fisheries industry has change traumatically, and these changes are exacerbated by federal policies and the attitude of the [Pacific] Island countries to maximize their financial returns on allowing fishing vessels to fish within their 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones."

"The future of our Territory is at stake and the only way out is through collaboration and working together to ensure that economic devastation will not occur," he said. "Our common goal is to ensure that our people do not face economic and social devastation."

The latest dispute that is expected to further impact the local cannery and fishing industries, is a move by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency not to issue any fishing licenses for the US-flag fleet, under the South Pacific Tuna Treaty, until the quarterly payment of $17 million is made by US fleet, as part of the Treaty agreement. It remains unclear as to when this dispute will be resolved but US Rep. Duncan M. Hunter of California has called on the US State Department to do all possible to resolve this matter. (See separate story in today’s edition.)

Speaking at last month’s local Argosy University graduation, Governor Lolo pointed out that the territory’s "economic future is full of uncertainty. The future of our two canneries is uncertain."

"Decisions rendered by the federal government to protect its interest around the world has substantially eroded our ability, not only to secure the competitive advantage of our two canneries, but also undermines our ability to develop our own economy," he said.

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