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Firms Start Mission To Palau To Talk About Hefty Tuna Tax

A 17-man delegation from the local tuna industry starts an investment mission in Palau yesterday in a bid to address obstacles to operating in the island-state’s rich fishing grounds through joint venture deals with counterparts there, an industry leader said Tuesday.

Among the key issues the team will raise is the hefty fish export tax and the establishment of an alternative transshipment point to cut operational costs if ever formal agreements will be reached by the parties, said Bayani B. Fredeluces.

"This trade visit is also in reciprocation to the coming here of the Palauan businessmen [early February]. Our coming there is part of the continuing process for further exploratory talks or negotiations so that we can fish in their waters," he said in an interview.

Mr. Fredeluces, executive director of the Soccsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. (SFFAII), the umbrella of seven local tuna fishing industry associations, said that representatives of 10 local fishing firms are taking part in the mission.

Marfenio Y. Tan, federation president and owner of San Andres Fishing Industries, Inc., is the delegation head for the meetings slated on March 5 and 6 in Koror. Some of the delegates had already left Tuesday, while others will depart yesterday.

In their first meeting here last February, local tuna industry players lamented the $0.35 per kilogram export tax slapped by Palau on tuna and tuna-like species.

Unless lifted by Palau, Filipino tuna fishing boat operators said that tax would make it hard for them to invest in the tuna-rich nation. "That’s quite significant as far as value is concerned. It’s a hefty tax and very difficult to work at that rate," said Domingo T. Teng, owner of TSP Marine Industries.

Palau has granted fishing licenses to only six locally registered companies, mostly owning long-line fishing vessels, as mandated by that nation’s law.

Mr. Fredeluces said that since these companies are seeking to forge joint fishing venture agreements with Philippine firms, which operate only purse seine and hand-line fishing vessels, there’s a high probability Palau would amend its law to meet the capability of the Filipino tuna catchers.

Regarding the alternative transshipment point, he said there was a proposal to have it set up in the southern part of Palau to cut on operational costs since the existing one is relatively far from the southern fishing ground. Mr. Fredeluces noted the existing transshipment point is favorable when fishing in the northern part of the island state, which is also farther away from General Santos, the tuna capital of the Philippines.

Six of the country’s seven tuna canneries are located in this city.
They mostly process skipjack tuna, in which Palau is known to be rich.