Inter-Samoa talks yield discussion, agreement on vital issues
A new undersea fiber optic cable, economic integration, immigration, transportation, joint disaster preparedness and energy were areas of discussion agreed upon for continued cooperation between the two Samoas, according to the “official meeting record” of the Inter Samoa talks held Monday this week, hosted by American Samoa.
In his remarks during the talks, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi noted the importance of these kinds of meetings is what affects one Samoa, certainly affects the other — for examples he pointed to the the African snail infestation, the taro blight, the cannery closing, which caused a ripple effect across both economies, etc.
Gov. Togiola Tulafono revealed during the executive talks that American Samoa is committed to setting up a new undersea submarine fiber optical cable within 24-36 months, connecting American Samoa and Fiji. Samoa was invited to join this project, in which they indicated an interest.
In their discussion, Togiola and Tuilaepa acknowledged the importance of up to date means of telecommunication to facilitate communication with the outside world.
There is already the fiber optic cable, which is operated and owned by American Samoa Hawai’i Cable (ASH-Cable) LLC, connecting American Samoa to Hawai’i and a link from ASH-Cable connects the territory with neighboring Samoa. ASG owns 33% shares of ASH-Cable.
During a news conference, Togiola said between $23- $26 million is involved in getting the fiber optic to be up and running between American Samoa and Fiji and ASH-Cable is funding a majority of this new project, except for a small amount of money that ASG may end up getting to complete the project. (Whether this is to be federal funding or local funding was not indicated)
Togiola emphasized that ASH-Cable will be the major player and funder for the project, which will further improve telecommunication needs for the two Samoas.
• Land Swap — Both leaders agreed to provide one acre of land for the other to use in order to set up offices to facilitate economic integration. Samoa requested that the land in American Samoa be in Tafuna.
During a news conference, Tuilaepa says having an American Samoa office in Apia would make it easy to address issues that arise in the event of an emergency situation. He says that having the Samoa Consulate Office in Pago Pago is doing the same for Samoa nationals in the territory.
• Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) — American Samoa agreed to again write to the U.S. State Department to be included in the negotiation process regarding the EEZ .
In their discussion, both sides agreed that economic integration involves many disciplines such as business licensing, immigration and trade.
• American Samoa has agreed to look into issuing 14-day permits on arrival at the point of entry, instead of pre-departure application. Togiola says these will be issued for those traveling from Samoa and the 14-day permits will not affect the usual 30-day visitor’s permit.
• The territory’s Attorney General will look into extending the validity date of Certificates of Identity beyond six months to facilitate international travel to Samoa.
• Samoa has agreed to waive the transit permit fee for travelers from American Samoa if staying in Samoa within 24 hours.
At the end of the meeting the two leaders agreed to have the respective immigration offices and Attorneys General discuss immigration matters further.
• American Samoa agreed to support a cabotage waiver requested by the Apia-based Samoa Air to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to provide domestic service between the Tafuna airport and the Ofu Airport.
Such a waiver is necessary because under federal cabotage law, no foreign carrier can operate between two U.S. airports.
Currently, locally based Inter Island Airways cannot fly to Ofu due to the short runway for the carrier’s larger Dornier aircraft; they only operate flights to Fitiuta Airport on Ta’u, Island, where the runway is longer.
• Samoa requested that American Samoa look into establishing a wharf on the western side of Tutuila to facilitate transportation, trade and tourism. American Samoa will consider the request and Togiola asked the U.S. Charge d’Affaires based at the U.S. Embassy in Samoa for assistance. The Charge d’Affaires traveled here with the Samoa delegation.
Tuilaepa raised the issue of a wharf on the western side of Tutuila — maybe Leone bay — saying that if the seas are calm, on a clear day, it would take only two hours to sail from Samoa’s Aleipata Wharf to Tutuila’s western side. He said this convenience makes faster sailing instead of the longer sail from Aleipata to the Port of Pago Pago in Fagatogo.
JOINT DISASTER PREPAREDNESS
• Radar — American Samoa has been working with its federal counterparts on joint disaster preparedness for the two Samoas that includes setting up radar to cover west of Savai’i island in Samoa.
• Dedicated telephone lines — leaders agreed to set up dedicated emergency telephone lines for communication between the two countries’ weather service offices for communication during natural disasters.
• Tsunami warning levels — Both leaders agreed for the need to standardize tsunami warning threshold levels to facilitate expedited warnings to the public in both Samoas. Appropriate officials are directed to look into this matter.
During their discussions, both leaders agreed that joint disaster preparedness is a priority issue especially for tropical cyclones and tsunami warnings.
During their discussion, both leaders:
• agreed to share information regarding renewable energy efforts occurring within the respective nations, such as solar and hydro energy; and
• encourage the respective attorneys general of both sides to review oil spill legislation options.
Other issues from the inter Samoa talks will be in future editions of Samoa News.