Banking, entry permits and inspection fees top Two Samoa Talks

fili@samoanews.com

Samoa based money transfer businesses wanting to open bank accounts in Pago Pago, business travel permits, and inspections fees were among the several issues that American Samoa and Samoa agreed upon, at this week’s Two Samoa Talks held in Apia.

The discussed and agreed upon issues, during the 10th Meeting on Cooperation Issues between the Two Samoa, were summarized in a six page executive communiqué, signed by Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and American Samoa Attorney General, Talauega Eleasalo Ale.

When asked why Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga didn’t sign the document, Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele said from Apia yesterday morning that “Governor Lolo was under the weather so he retreated to rest and Attorney General Talauega took his position leading the American Samoa delegation during deliberations and signing of the executive meeting communiqué.”

Lolo did attend the opening of the executive meeting, and he and Tuilaepa formally opened the meeting with their respective opening statements.

The executive session was held Thursday in Samoa (Wednesday in American Samoa) at the Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi Convention Center in the heart of Apia. The executive communiqué was the result of a separate meeting held Wednesday in Apia, between top officials of the two Samoas.

BANKING

The communiqué reveals that Apia-based Money Transfer Operators (MTO) have requested to set-up bank accounts in American Samoa, “but are unable to do so at this time due to global anti-money laundering policies and regulations practiced by ANZ bank” in the territory.

Therefore, MTOs from Samoa have proposed the possibility to set-up local bank accounts in American Samoa through the ASG owned Territorial Bank of American Samoa, which noted the MTOs request.

TBAS awaits a routing number from the Federal Reserve Board, which “could possibly facilitate” the opening of MTOs bank accounts in Pago Pago, the communiqué states.

At the same time, American Samoa has requested that the Central Bank of Samoa “assist with ensuring appropriate policies and regulations are in place to address money laundering.”

The Central Bank is Samoa’s reserve bank and as such it acts as a bank to the government and commercial banks in the independent state, according to the bank’s website, which also provides information and laws pertaining to the Money Laundering Prevention Act.

TRAVEL PERMITS

American Samoa has proposed discussion with Samoa on a “Samoa Pass Program” to better facilitate travel between the two Samoa. The program, according to the communiqué, has two features.

The first is the “Samoa Pass”, which is proposed to be a “free three-day permit” for US Nationals to travel to Samoa. The second is the “Samoa Premium”, which is a single permit fee allowing multiple entries to Samoa over the course of one year.

According to the meeting communiqué, the two Samoas need to agree to an implementation schedule of the Samoa Pass Program.

The Samoa government announced in a news release two months ago that effective Oct. 9, 2017, an entry permit for US Nationals for up to 14 days is increased to $20; for urgent issuance, $US30; and $US150 for multiple entries for 12 months.

At the time, ASG officials said American Samoa would raise the matter during the Two Samoa Talks.

Another issue cited in the communiqué is Samoa’s request for a “three-day permit free provision for business travelers” to Pago Pago. The communiqué says that facilitation of the request will be possible when ASG’s new Immigration Tracking Systems upgrades are in place by the end of this year.

American Samoa also informed Samoa that foreign passports are no longer seized at the territory’s ports of entry based on a new policy implemented by the Immigration Office. There have been complaints from Samoa travelers about their passports being held by Immigration upon arrival in the territory and it takes long to retrieve them before leaving Pago Pago.

FEES AND INSPECTION

The concerns by Samoa relating to American Samoa’s inspection fees have been resolved, according to the communiqué, which didn’t give examples of concerns, although Samoa News has received complaints about passengers from Samoa being charged inspection fees at the Tafuna airport and the inter island dock in Fagatogo, despite the fact that goods brought in “are for personal use”.

The communiqué states that American Samoa has confirmed that ASG only charges excise fees - as set forth by statute - and duties are only levied against commercial goods, “not legitimate personal goods”.  (It’s unclear what is considered ‘legitimate personal goods’.)

QUARANTINE/BIOSECURITY

Samoa will continue to pursue approval from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the export of meat and meat products to American Samoa, which stands ready to assist upon a request from the independent state.

Samoa has confirmed receipt of an invitation from the US to meet regarding the matter, according to the communiqué.

Samoa getting USDA approval has been a long standing issue as many local residents want imported raw meat from Samoa - especially for the holidays and during fa’alavelave on island, because the cost is much lower and most of the time the meat is donated by families in Samoa.

Even lawmakers have urged ASG to help Samoa obtain USDA approval but ASG officials have said this is a federal issue; however, American Samoa stands ready to assist in any way possible.

Samoa News will report next week on other issues cited in the communiqué.

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