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Construction of food processing plant set for next month

Groundbreaking: Leaders from the American Samoa Government and the Fono along with Anthony Bernardo of AVM Bernardo Engineering during a groundbreaking ceremony for a food processing plant across from Public Works in Tafuna, in January 2016.  [SN file photo]
Once completed, the project will provide up to 800 jobs

The Phillipines-based company looking to establish a multi-food processing plant in American Samoa, with an investment of more than $100 million, is moving forward on its own with phase 1 of the project, slated to start construction next month, says Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele.

AVM Bernardo Engineering proposes to invest $106 million to set up a “multi-line food processing plant” focusing first on frozen fish-based sausage, ham, nuggets and patties. Later it will extend to other products such as juice.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held late January of last year, during which the Lolo Administration touted the project as a milestone in local economic development, providing up to 800 jobs, once the plant is fully operational.

However, there have been some setbacks with the company seeking investors. During his confirmation hearing in Febuary this year, Lafaele told senators that when the project broke ground, there were investors to move the project forward; but later they withdrew, and the company looked at other interested investors.

There were even meetings in Honolulu earlier this year in February and March, as the company sought investors, according to Lafaele's testimony provided to the Senate at the time.

With the uncertainty faced by the tuna canning industry, and the stagnant economy, Samoa News has received inquiries about where the multi-food processing plant stands at this point, and when it will move forward to provide jobs.

Responding to Samoa News questions, Lafaele said over the weekend that AVM Bernado’s “conceptualized American Samoa multi-line food processing plant initiative is alive.”

Regarding investors, Lafale explained that, “although finding investors has been a challenge and still a work in progress, the company has decided to start phase 1 of the project on its own.”

“The company is processing the necessary paperwork to conduct business in the territory and construction is slated to begin in October,” he added.

AVM’s operation will be located at the Tafuna Industrial Park and the company plans to market products to the US.

American Samoa has been faced with challenges in setting up new developments in the territory. Lafaele told senators early this year that it’s “very difficult to attract investors to invest in American Samoa, due to - among other things - transportation, and international trade agreements between the US and other countries.”

These challenges and difficulties faced by American Samoa have also been cited by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga during public addresses, as well as communications with the federal government.  For example, in a letter last month to the US Government Accountability Office, the governor pointed to, among other things, the withdrawal of federal incentives, automatic imposition of federal minimum wage hikes of 40-cents per hour every three years, and prohibition of fishing in the high seas by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.