Presidential order withdrawing from TPP hailed as positive for fisheries

fili@samoanews.com
“The fact that our canneries are American companies, allows them free access to the markets here,” Aumua said; however, the “TPP would have completely erased this small but significant benefit, which allows our canneries to compete with those companies whose wages border on the equivalent of servitude.”

US President Donald J. Trump yesterday morning signed an executive order withdrawing United States participation in the eleven-country Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which is described by StarKist Co., as “an erosion of American Samoa's modest trade advantage” related to TPP participating countries.

The Lolo Administration, Congresswoman Aumua Amata, the two canneries and others have voiced concerns over the TPP, which the US Trade Representative tells the US Government Accountability Office is a free trade agreement that aims to liberalize trade in goods and services and remove barriers to foreign investment among countries including Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Mexico.

The GAO report last December on federally mandated minimum wage in American Samoa cites concerns raised by StarKist Co., and Tri Marine International on US free trade agreements with other countries.

For example, they cited the possibility that the TPP agreement, which includes one tuna-producing country, Vietnam, would result in additional competition to the American Samoa tuna industry if Vietnam is granted tariff-free access to the US market.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries after Trump withdrew the US from the TPP, StarKist corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist said that like other multilateral trade agreements, the “TPP was an erosion of American Samoa's modest trade advantage related to TPP participating countries.”

However, as recently outlined in the GAO report, there are other production models available that take advantage of low-wage rates in other countries, she said yesterday, adding that it’s difficult for American Samoa to compete with other manufacturing locations, where labor costs and other expenses are substantially lower.

“We are trying to sustain a business on U.S. soil and are being penalized with increased costs. In addition, we are continuing to have issues with expanding our operations at the local level,” she said. “Limited freezer capability and the lack of space to expand the freezer have negatively impacted the company’s operational efficiency over the years.”

In a news release yesterday morning Amata voiced her support of Trump’s decision, saying the TPP was signed by then President Barack Obama last February and had yet to be ratified by Congress.

She pointed out that the TPP would have placed the tuna canning industry in American Samoa “at great risk by allowing those countries like Thailand, where they pay their workers a fraction of what ours make to have the same access to markets in the United States without any of the fees associated with it.”

“The fact that our canneries are American companies, allows them free access to the markets here,” she said; however, the “TPP would have completely erased this small but significant benefit, which allows our canneries to compete with those companies whose wages border on the equivalent of servitude.”

Getting the US out of the TPP “has been one of the cornerstones of my policy to keep our canneries competitive, and I could not be happier to know that the TPP will no longer be of concern,” Amata said, adding that Trump’s “decision not only makes sense economically, but also morally, and I want to thank him for keeping his word, and withdrawing the United States from what would have been an economic disaster especially in American Samoa.”

“I will continue to push for polices and legislation that allows our local industry to thrive, such as returning the ability to set local wages back to the local government,” the Congresswoman said.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Commerce Department acting director Keniseli Lafaele said Trump’s action “breathes new life and hope into our much embattled fisheries.”

“We're hopeful... that this protection — of our fishery exports to the US — can be sustained long term,” Lafaele said. “Other factors such as the minimum wage issue and access to fishing on the high seas need to be [also] resolved in order to leverage the aforementioned protection… to keep our fishery industry alive for many years to come.”

Lafaele noted that Trump’s position on protecting American businesses and the expansion of marine monuments and sanctuaries “may play in our favor” by letting American Samoa determine a minimum wage that's appropriate for the territory, and not be tethered to the US minimum wage law in its current form; re-opening the aforementioned bodies of water for fishing; and influencing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fishery Service “to lessen restrictions in fishing on the high seas for boats based in American Samoa.”

Prior to taking office, Trump was quoted by national media as opposing the expansion of marine monuments and sanctuaries. Some are hoping that the President will make a stand on these issues, now that he is in the White House.

In a letter last October to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, Tri Marine chief operation officer Joe Hamby said free trade agreements, like TPP, “are a serious threat to the American Samoa tuna industry.”

Trump's decision “will not provide any immediate benefit to the American Samoa tuna industry,” Hamby said late yesterday afternoon responding to Samoa News inquiries. “Rather, it eliminates a future threat.”

“The American Samoa tuna industry needs duty free access to the all-important U.S. market to survive. Obviously, if lower cost tuna canning countries have duty free access to the U.S. market, this eliminates any advantage of American Samoa having duty free access,” he said.

Tri Marine on Dec. 16, 2016 closed indefinitely its Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery operation.

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