Negotiations are underway for an expansion of the Starkist Tuna cannery in Pago Pago.
The American company is planning to relocate tuna processing from Ecuador in South America and American Samoa is the likely destination.
Speaker:David Robinson, president, American Samoan Chamber of Commerce
ROBINSON: Nothing is so simple these days no, I don't think they're not going to move the plant. What they're doing I think is to move a certain amount of production. In Ecuador they produce what's known as tuna pouch, which is a tuna loin which has been cleaned and de-boned and eventually goes into a plastic pouch. The primary operation here in Samoa has been to can, put the tuna in a can. So this is probably an additional production for the local tuna cannery. The name of the cannery is Starkist Samoa, and Starkist has been here for a long, long time, 50 years, and it's been a very, very important part of our local economy. They employ a lot of people, close to two-thousand people, and spin-off of course into the local economy is enormous with all the purchasing that they do and the fact that they attract tuna fishing boats to come in and that sort of thing. So from a government point of view and from a local economic point of view, the longevity and the success of Starkist is exceedingly important. And recently the Governor has stressed that he is planning to do all he can to help Starkist to expand. There are certain impediments at the present time which need to be overcome. One of the things of course is the federally mandated minimum wage, which we have to put up with for the time being, but we're hoping to put a stop to that. So there are a number of issues that need to be discussed and the Governor is currently in Washington DC discussing these matters with Congress and with the administration to see whether we can get some relief from these impediments which have been causing issues for us in the local economy.
EWART: You talk about the situation with the federal minimum wage, I would presume that's going to be quite controversial isn't it if that particular piece of legislation is changed?
ROBINSON: Well it is although we've got a halt to the delay. The minimum wage was imposed upon us by an act of Congress in 2007, and what it meant essentially was that every year there would be a 50 cent per hour increase in the minimum wage. And this has gone on, we've had three increases. But through the efforts of government and our congressman in Washington, there's been a delay to this wage increase until September 2015. So between now and then the government has to do whatever it can to try and persuade Congress that our local economy just cannot afford these continual wage hikes. The minimum wage is high enough at the present time and we don't want anymore.
EWART: So this really is an example of a big brother dictating as it were to some degree and perhaps not really understanding the demands of the American Samoan economy?
ROBINSON: I think that's true yes, yes, I think that this thing went in and the thing which is really unsettled recently is the fact that President Obama has been talking about raising the federal minimum wage in the US, and that would certainly be something that we would have to strenuously oppose if it looked as if it was going to impact on us over here. Before this was imposed upon us, we had a situation where every two years we have a joint committee that looked at minimum wages and possible wage increases, and it was based really on what the local economy could afford, and we'd like to get back to that situation.
EWART: If you are unable to get back to that situation in the near to medium term, could that jeopardise the prospect of the expansion of the tuna operations?
ROBINSON: I don't know, I think that's a matter for discussion with Starkist, they know what they can afford in terms of costs. So I think that would be something for discussion with them rather than with us. We would suspect that any increase is going to obviously impact adversely on the operations of not only the cannery, but business in general. So we're trying to do whatever we can to afford these hikes, but it's very difficult. Inflation of course is high, utility costs are high, transportation costs, we rely heavily on everything coming into the territory here by either air or sea, and of course transportation costs aren't getting any cheaper either. So we've got a battle on our hands to try and maintain costs.