Fono voices concern over "Asian takeover" of agriculture and fishery
With the Fono being the lawmaking body of the territorial government, Commerce Department director Keniseli Lafaele told a Senate Committee that it's up to the Legislature if they want to establish a law that would protect certain industries, specifically for local American Samoans — only.
Lafaele made the comment in response to a question from Sen. Magalei Logovi’i during a Senate Communications/Fisheries/Marine and Wildlife Committee hearing late last week on the roadside selling of fresh fish.
With more Asians getting into agriculture, especially vegetable farming, and heading into the local fishery, Magalei inquired if a law can be created to protect certain industries — for local American Samoans only.
Lafaele responded that this was a “very important question”, and noted for example, that Samoa has such a law, which protects certain types of businesses specifically for Samoa citizens — such as buses and taxi operations — where foreign investors cannot have a hand in them.
He said perhaps American Samoa can look at a similar type of law, especially in areas of agriculture and fisheries.
According to the US State Department’s 2017 Samoa Investment Climate Report, released late last month, foreign investors are permitted 100% ownership in all different sectors of industry in Samoa. However, certain businesses are reserved for Samoa citizens only including: bus and taxi transport services for the general public; rental vehicles; retailing; saw milling; and traditional elei garment designing and printing.
Regarding “outward investment”, the report said, there is minimal outward investment from Samoa beyond several stationery and apparel stores having branches in New Zealand and American Samoa. Additionally, the Samoa government and economy is more focused on increasing exports of Samoan products, and the Samoa government does not appear to restrict investment abroad.
“Wages and salaries are comparatively low. Private sector minimum wage is roughly US $0.92 cents an hour,” it says. Besides Samoa, the US State Department, also released investment reports on other world countries. (www.state.gov)
During the Senate hearing, Lafaele said he has observed the spread “like cancer” of Asians taking over operations of stores from local Samoans. This has started to spread to agriculture and now it appears that fishery is next.
Lafaele explained that DOC, along with the ASCC Land Grant, and Agriculture have started working on a funding program, which involves bringing together smaller farmers in villages and financial institutions like ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank, Development Bank of American Samoa, the Territorial Bank of American Samoa — once they get their routing number so they can do business loans — and the US Agriculture Department’s Rural Development agency, which has a local office.
He said DOC is working with all these entities and partners on ways to provide financial support for local farmers and fishermen to further develop local businesses. Additionally, they are working with the Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center at ASCC to help farmers and fishermen develop their operations just like a business, so their hard work is “profitable”.
Magalei, a long time farmer, said he had supplied bananas for seven years to the hospital but after it was put out for re-bid again, a foreigner won the bid, undercutting him on the price cost, but the foreigner had no banana planation. He said he is not sure where the foreigner came up with the banana cost.
The senator reminded Lafaele that when federal funding is involved in any project, there are regulations that American Samoa must follow.
It should be noted that there used to be a local law that said local businesses must be at least 51% US national owned in American Samoa. It was challenged, and the court found that you cannot discriminate against American citizens, and the law was deemed unconstitutional when applied.
Samoa News should then point out that any such statute, protecting certain industries from ‘foreign’ ownership, would probably by challenged in court as ‘unconstitutional’.