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Air links between Tuvalu, Tonga, AmSam discussed

During Flag Day celebrations this month, Gov. Togiola Tulafono was able to hold meetings with leaders of Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu on various issues of mutual interest, including air service that could benefit local businesses by using American Samoa as a shopping hub for residents and the government of Tuvalu.

During discussions with Tuvalu governor-general Sir Iakoba Taeia Italeli, the official raised issues of trade and purchase of goods in American Samoa and the possibility of opening up direct service from American Samoa to Tuvalu, something that would greatly help the small island nation, said Togiola of the meeting.

Speaking on his weekend radio program, Togiola said he was told there is direct air service between Tuvalu and Fiji, where goods are very expensive. These goods from Fiji are then taken back to Tuvalu where the price is even higher, he said.

The governor said that Sir Iakoba had a chance to visit local stores and found prices to be less expensive. For example, the Tuvalu official purchased a box of goods in the territory that was only $20, but the same item cost $80 in Fiji.

Togiola said Sir Iakoba has taken back to Tuvalu this purchase to prove a point of the big price differences between American Samoa and Fiji, and will recommend to that country’s prime minister the use of American Samoa as a shopping place, provided there can be a direct air link between Pago Pago and Tuvalu.

The governor also held discussions with Tonga’s Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala, who was eager to work with American Samoa on a number of areas such as trade and purchase of goods in the territory — also with improved air and ocean transportation links between the territory and the island kingdom.

Togiola said the Crown Prince requested that Tonga be included in any plan of direct air service between Pago Pago and Tuvalu.

According to the governor, the issue of improved air service for South Pacific islands can be achieved first through the work of organizations such as the Polynesian Leadership Group and Pacific Island Forum.

He said this was revealed in discussions with Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who stated that these organizations are working on an airline connecting all or most of the Pacific islands.

The governor also said that other issues discussed with Tuilaepa dealt with the areas of trade between the two Samoas as well as continued cooperation on issues such as airlines,  fisheries and border control, immigration and customs.

In his address on Wednesday during the Flag Day closing ceremony, Tuilaepa said Samoa’s recent entrance into the World Trade Organization, “now opens up the gateways to world markets including potential trading between our two Samoas.”

“Needless to say, therefore, the ties which have been forged between us over the past years will continue to remain strong and should serve as the link that binds our two countries together,” said Tuilaepa, who is chairman of the Polynesian Leadership Group, in which American Samoa is a member.

Speaking on his radio program, Togiola said neighboring countries are interested in developments dealing with trade, purchase of goods in the territory and air service, and the  government is very supportive of these issues as part of economic development, particularly an air link that will open up American Samoa for Pacific neighbors to come here to shop. This would mean increased business for the private sector through the increase in purchase power not only by local residents but the new visitors.

He said discussions were also held regarding local permits for these expected new visitors to make it easy for them to enter the territory for a period of time to shop, take care of other business and then return to their home country.

Togiola said he has also requested that these governments forgo excise taxes in their countries in order to keep the prices down, which would ensure that goods purchased in the territory are easily sold in their countries