Ulu project and other joint ventures discussed during Two Samoa trade talks
The Ulu project was among the issues discussed during the two day meeting of the Two Samoa’s Economic Integration Initiative held last week at the Tradewinds Hotel.
According to a report issued after the meeting, research on ulu is accelerating, and involves several U.S. based universities, among them the University of Hawai’i, Kansas State and Illinois. The meeting was well attended by officials and representatives of the Samoa and American Samoa governments.
While there are over 200 varieties of ulu, “maafala proved to be the most resistant to severely harsh conditions” and also proved healthiest, producing the most gluten-free nutrients. University of Hawaii propagated the maafala, which was harvested within three years compared to a “naturally-grown” ulu plant, which takes seven years to bear fruit.
A huge, worldwide market is available for gluten-free products numbering at least 52 million consumers, according to the ulu project presentation. Original projects forecasted sales around $2-3 billion in 2011 (or 2012), but actual figures in January 2014 showed sales exceeded $7 billion. The market primarily consists of consumers who need gluten-free products to avoid and lessen certain diseases such as celiac disease. (Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.)
Research is continuing, as they try to perfect methods for transforming ulu into viable gluten-free products and extending the shelf-life of those products while trying to save ulu from going to waste through preserving them prior to maturity. Commercializing ulu will require a guaranteed supply, but the two Samoas combined do not have enough land mass to grow plants that can sustain a supply to meet world demand, which points to the need for a regional approach.
A representative from Samoa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) made a presentation on the trading environment of Samoa, where it highlighted that Samoa operated on a trade deficit from 2009-2013. American Samoa is Samoa’s third largest export market with the top four export products being fish, beer, taro and post-mix. The top import products from the territory to Samoa were mostly food products such as chips, soy sauce and macaroni.
In ASG’s presentation, Samoa’s major export markets included USA, Australia and New Zealand. In terms of 2012 import figures by country, Samoa is ranked as the 7th largest import market for American Samoa.
A series of presentations from Samoa’s private sector highlighted a number of issues surrounding trade with American Samoa, including regulatory barriers such as business license requirements, entry permits, prohibitive freight costs and industry specific issues.
It was noted that the American Samoa Border Control agencies charge Polynesian Airlines for the same number of inspectors required to service a larger aircraft with more passengers. “These charges are a trade barrier as the costs are then passed on to travelers between the two Samoas.”
“Recommendations were made to enhance private sector dialogue between the two Samoa’s; possible agreement to an annual number of Trade Fair events; and the exploration of an investment provision to facilitate the growth and expansion of the two Samoa’s service sectors.”
There were recommended areas for cooperation with American Samoa market such as making excise rates more predictable, addressing business license restrictions, pursuit of duty free access to USA for products from Samoa via American Samoa, assistance in meeting USDA requirements and for both governments to put in place incentives for the establishment of joint ventures.
There was also discussion on the importation of processed meat from Samoa, where it was mentioned that bilateral discussions have been underway with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) however it was noted that it would be more suitable for Samoa to submit an application to USDA directly.
The issue of permit waivers was also discussed, and it was revealed that ongoing discussions could lead to both countries eliminating or “standardizing” permit fees.