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Politicians and others fight to protect local tuna industry

fili@samoanews.com

The U.S. House approved last week federal legislation that includes a provision on reporting language for the U.S. Department of Agriculture canned tuna requirement, which Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and others say will impact the local canned tuna industry.
 
To help protect the local industry, a petition is being circulated in the community gathering signatures to support Faleomavaega’s strong opposition to this provision, that would require that “not less than 75% of the value of such tuna be produced” in the U.S.
 
The current requirement is 100%, which ensures that StarKist Samoa is eligible for the canned tuna produced for the federally funded school lunch program, with Tri Marine International being able to qualify as well with its planned tuna cannery, Samoa Tuna Processors, Inc., to begin operations later next year.
 
Other U.S. canned tuna operators — Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee — do not qualify under current USDA law, because their products are not 100% produced in the U.S. Therefore, they and their supporters, including congressional members have lobbied for the new language, and new requirement, under proposals introduced in Congress last year.
 
THE  PETITION
 
Former Gov. Togiola Tulafono along with longliner boat owners Carlos and Christina Sanchez are spearheading a petition drive to gather community support in opposition to the USDA required reporting language.
 
The petition is addressed to Faleomavaega and the Stronger Economy for American Samoa Coalition — whose members including StarKist and Tri Marine International — who are being asked to convey to the U.S. Congress “our strong opposition” to the USDA language provision pertaining to Buy America.
 
The petition also supports Faleomavaega and the Coalition’s position “articulated in opposing” to this proposal.
 
“PLEASE DON’T SEND OUR JOBS ABROAD. SAVE OUR FAMILIES,”  says the petition, which follows Togiola’s letter that appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of Samoa News.
 
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS
 
Last week Wednesday, Faleomavaega in separate letters to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and members of the Fono announced that the U.S. House approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014 and it has since been passed by  the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014.
 
The Consolidated Act is a $1.01 trillion bill in which report language was included about USDA canned tuna requirements.  “This is not the way Congress typically legislates.  However, to avoid a government shutdown, House and Senate Appropriators worked together under a short deadline to introduce this Act,” he said.
 
The report language provision, states that 90 days after the bill is enacted into law,  the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture shall revise the USDA Marketing Service Master Solicitation and Supplement specification for the purchase of canned tuna to require that:
 
•            all such tuna be landed by U.S. flagged vessels;
 
•            not less than 75% of the value of such tuna be produced in the U.S.; and
 
•            all such tuna be canned in the U.S. including its territories.
 
According to the provision, this move is to create competition in the USDA’s canned tuna purchasing program to strengthen the department’s buying power, increase the availability of canned tuna to school lunch, child nutrition, and other federal nutrition programs, and create jobs in the domestic canning industry.
 
This same provision was first included in language of a U.S. House bill (H.R. 2842) early last year.
 
Last week Tuesday, Faleomavaega also wrote separate letters to the governor and Fono members about this issue and outlined the timeline on which the bill had been moved thru the U.S House last year.
 
For example in June last year, Congressman Jack Kingston of Georgia (where Chicken of the Sea relocated its operation after closing the local cannery in 2009) included in an Agriculture Appropriation bill (H.R. 2410), the USDA provision on canned tuna.
 
The following month, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (of California) introduced a new bill (H.R. 2842), that Faleomavaega says was to create competition in America’s school lunch program “by undermining the 100% USDA Buy America requirements”.
 
This measure was co-sponsored by Congressional members who represent Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea, he says.
 
In response to the two bills, Faleomavaega said his assistance was sought by StarKist and Tri Marine because of the local implications it will have on the canneries, if passed.
 
With the support of U.S. Rep. George Miller and the two canneries, “we were able to prevent” H.R. 2842 from moving forward, said Faleomavaega, adding that H.R. 2410 was passed by the House, but the Senate never took action.
 
Between August and December late year, Faleomavaega also sent letters to key members of both the House and Senate opposing the USDA canned tuna provision. Copies of the letters were also included in packets Faleomavaega sent last week to the governor and Fono members.
 
Faleomavaega informed the Fono and governor that despite all of these efforts, Rep. Kingston was able to include his report language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014.
 
“It is my hope that the USDA will take note that Rep. Kingston’s language was not passed in the most transparent way,” Faleomavaega said, adding “we are continuing our efforts to ensure that the USDA will not propose any ways that would weaken 100% made in American provisions, or that would make possible the purchase of canned tuna made by child labor.”
 
In letters to congressional members last year, opposing the proposed language for the USDA, Faleomavaega made allegations of child labor against Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee.
 
For example, in a Dec. 12, 2013 letter to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader, Faleomavaega claimed Chicken of the Sea “outsourced the cleaning and processing of tuna loins to its parent company in Thailand where workers are paid low-wages and where serious and well-documented issues of human rights violations exist in the tuna factories where the tuna is cleaned.”
 
“The same is true of Bumble Bee which also outsources the loining of its tuna to locations including Thailand, where child, slave, trafficked and other exploited labor is used to pre-process tuna loins,” he further claimed.
 
“The places where these frozen loins are being produced leverage extremely low wages — sometimes as low as seventy cents per hour — and also utilize sometimes brutal labor practices and child labor,” he wrote to Reid.
 
On the other hand, StarKist cleans and processes fish and manufactures its canned tuna all in StarKist Samoa’s factory in American Samoa, he said, adding Tri Marine has been setting up its operations in Pago Pago and is a sure sign of competition — to counter claims by Bumble Bee that StarKist faces no competition.
 
In an Op-Ed that appeared in last Thursday’s edition of The Hill publication, Chris Lischewski, President and Chief Executive Officer of Bumble Bee Foods, LLC (alternate name is Bumble Bee Seafoods, LLC), wrote it’s true Bumble Bee Foods uses companies in Thailand to clean some of its tuna. “However, it is absolutely slanderous to suggest that we use facilities that violate child labor standards,” he said.
 
“How do we know this? All of Bumble Bee’s suppliers must sign a statement saying they don’t use forced, trafficked or underage labor and we conduct regular onsite visits, along with paying for audits by independent third-party social audit firms for additional layers of oversight to ensure that this is the case,” he said.
 
According to Lischewski, StarKist currently enjoys a monopoly based on the provisions of Buy American tuna. “Ironically, it enjoys this monopoly without having a single mainland U.S. processing facility. Starkist has built this monopoly solely based on its presence in American Samoa,” he said.
 
However, Samoa News should point out Lischewski wrongly stated in his Op-Ed that American Samoa is exempted from U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace requirements.
 
American Samoa is required to comply with all OSHA workplace requirements.



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