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Samoa Desperately Seeking For Economic Alternatives To Tuna Canneries

Local businessman Carlos Sanchez believes realistic options must be explored to help American Samoa address its economic crisis— a crisis that has been exacerbated by the recent announcement of the closure of Chicken of the Sea in American Samoa.

To explore these options, he has secured important off-island meetings between Gov. Togiola Tulafono and individuals in the fishery and tuna canning industry to discuss the future of the territory’s cannery.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono recently pointed to the positive example of businessman Carlos Sanchez on his weekend radio program, as someone who wants to find a solution and is acting upon it — instead of criticizing the government in the media.

Togiola said the so-called “experts” in the private sector who are voicing so many recommendations on how American Samoa should address the impact of the cannery closure should standup with solutions instead of writing to the newspaper with so many recommendations and suggestions, but no solutions.

“We are in a crisis with our cannery industry and I reacted to it in any way that I see I could help,” said Sanchez, when contacted by Samoa News for comments following the governor’s praise of Sanchez on the governor’s weekend radio program.

“I’m very humbled by the governor’s reaction to my assistance to seek out ways to help American Samoa,” Sanchez said Wednesday. “I didn’t do anything except to put our governor in contact with the right people in the fishing industry who can provide realistic options for the good of the territory.”

“I don’t think I deserve the compliments. Instead, I appreciate the Governor’s trust in my recommendation to participate in meetings with these businessmen,” he said.

Sanchez has reached out to his off-island contacts — individuals who have worked in the fishery and tuna canning industry — to meet with the governor to discuss how best to address the problems the territory now faces.

“Our ship is sinking and I want to plug the hole to prevent it from sinking. As the captain of our ship, the governor needed solutions and I presented him with ideas, which he reviewed and agreed to,” said Sanchez. “We must help our captain to keep the ship afloat.”

“I presented to the governor something that makes sense and he agreed to meet with these individuals off-island. The governor even worked his schedule around so that he could meet with these individuals who have ideas, and shared them with the governor,” said Sanchez, who pointed out that the meetings were confidential and it’s up to the governor to release information as he sees fit.

“These professional individuals in the fishery and tuna cannery industries were very impressed with the governor and his questions and the way he represented himself as well as American Samoa,” he said.

Sanchez, who has been in the fishery business for more than three decades, said that he hears a lot of proposals about the cannery and what should be done “but the question is — are these proposals feasible? There are so many proposals but no truly feasible ones and the only way to come up a good feasible solution is if you have been in the industry for a long time.”

One idea, or a proposal, that has circulated in the community is to have Samoa Packing workers become owners of the company; but Sanchez said such an idea “is very difficult” adding that one major issue to be addressed is “capital investment”.

“You need to have enough capital investment in place to deal with various expenses such as the purchase of fish, fuel, oil, boxes, labor costs, cans, etc., and then wait up to 90 days for supermarkets to pay for the product — assuming they buy the products — as it will not have a major ‘name brand’ label,” he said.

“You also need to remember the ‘label’ or the canned tuna product must be an attractive one in order for the public to buy it. So you will need a very aggressive marketing strategy in this area and you will need extra capital to carry out that strong marketing campaign for your product,” he noted.

“It’s good to have ideas, but realistic ideas,” he added.

Sanchez also pointed to labor costs, or wages, as a major issue for any company, especially a cannery, adding this is one of those issues Samoa Packing had to deal with and they had no choice but to shut down operations in the territory due to the high wages.

“The fact on wages is being evaluated by real experts to come up with the solutions to our problem or their investment in it,” he said.

With the departure of one cannery, which will have a ripple effect on other local businesses, Sanchez warned that the situation will get bad “but people just don’t know how bad it is for us in the future.”

For example, he said the frequency in shipping will decrease while costs will go up. “We have to act and work together with the captain to save our ship,” he emphasized.