American Samoa plant to create estimated 1,000 jobs

By Fili Sagapolutele, AP

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa–American Samoa government officials expect up to 1,000 jobs will be created when a Filipino company invests US$100 million in a new food-processing plant.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said Friday that executives from A.V.M. Bernardo Engineering were in the territory this week to finalize the paperwork for the project.

The company expects to begin construction early next year. Operations would begin the following year, said Keniseli Lafaele, director of the American Samoa Commerce Department.

The plant will first focus on frozen fish-based sausage, ham, nuggets and patties, Lafaele said. The plant will also produce coconut water, mango and other juices, he said.

The products will be sold in the U.S. market duty-free because they will be made in a U.S. territory. This is a factor that is driving the project, Lafaele said. The products will also be available for export in the Pacific region.

The government is considering allowing the company to import plant construction materials and equipment duty-free as an incentive, Lafaele said.

A.V.M President Tony Bernado on Thursday gave a private presentation of the company’s plans to the governor and several lawmakers.

Bernado couldn’t be reach for comment, but he said Thursday night on state-run television that A.V.M has been in business for 22 years and has several operations outside of the Philippines.

The project is the first major private-sector investment in American Samoa in years. The territory’s economy is supported mostly by the tuna canning industry, which has suffered after a 2007 law instituted annual 50-cent increases in the minimum wage until the rate matched the federal minimum of US$7.25 per hour.

Implementation of the law has been frozen until next year, but one tuna cannery, Chicken of the Sea, cited the law when it closed in 2009, costing the jobs of more than 2,000 employees.

Another cannery, StarKist Co., cited the law when it decided to lay off 800 workers the following year.

Chicken of the Sea has since been taken over by Tri Marine International of Bellevue, Washington.