“BUY AMERICAN REQUIREMENT WORKS”
The words are flying back and forth between politicians and corporate lobbyists about the Buy American provision related to tuna purchased for the U.S. School Lunch program.
Unlike those politicians and lobbyists, the Chamber of Commerce of American Samoa does not allege that child or forced labor is used by tuna companies not operating in this U.S. Territory, so let’s not make that specious argument part of the real argument.
We support the Buy American provision as it presently stands because it works. There is presently one company (StarKist) that is able to meet the Buy American requirements by purchasing all its tuna from U.S. boats, then processing and canning that tuna in American Samoa.
A year from now, a second company (Tri-Marine) will also have a canning plant up and running in American Samoa and will presumably be competing with StarKist for the school lunch contracts.
Both plants fall under the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, as does every other employer in American Samoa, and are subject to full OSHA (worker safety) and EPA (environmental protection) compliance along with every other company in American Samoa. (Note that a recent posting on TheHill.com, authored by the CEO of Bumble Bee, is simply wrong when it says OSHA regulations do not apply in American Samoa).
If companies like Bumble Bee are successful in lowering the U.S. content of Made in America tuna from 100% (as at present) to 75% (as proposed), we fear and predict that jobs will shift from this U.S. territory to places like Thailand.
Buy American should not have an asterisk so that companies like StarKist who can meet strict Buy American rules will have to compete against companies who have not made the requisite investment to fully comply with the Buy American rules.
American Samoa should not be collateral economic damage in a race to the bottom in the tuna wars being waged by global commodity producers.
Since American Samoa already suffers from unemployment higher than 25% and a per capita income that is only one-sixth the per capita income in the rest of the United States, the Chamber of Commerce is very concerned about this possible legislative change and strongly opposes an unnecessary dilution of the Buy American requirement.
We are counting on Congress to protect the integrity of the Buy American program, which is functioning the way it is supposed to: ensuring that American school children eat tuna that is caught and processed under the protective umbrella of American labor and environmental laws.
American Samoa Chamber of Commerce
Lewis Wolman, Board Chair