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CofC: Border closures to curb COVID had significant economic impact

Chamber chairwoman Luisa Kuaea
One remedy suggested is to build a Pacific “bubble”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In its “Border Closure Impact Analysis” document, the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce reconfirmed that restrictions on business activities in previous COVID-19 declarations affected many small local businesses, which had to depend on federal COVID funds “to survive”.

The impact of the State of Emergency Declarations was one of the subjects covered in the Chamber’s analysis submitted by the business organization’s chairwoman, Luisa Kuaea, to COVID-19 Task Force chairman, Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR).

 The COVID-19 Declarations last year, by the Lolo Administration, with the first issued in March, through the rest of the year imposed restrictions on operating hours for businesses, with the exception of StarKist Samoa. At the time, the Chamber submitted to the Lolo Administration requests for exemptions and suggestions. And the private sector was not included in the COVID-19 Task Force membership until the Lemanu Administration took office in January this year.


In its analysis sent to Talauega, the Chamber explained that the COVID restrictions connected with the border closures had a significant economic impact on local businesses, government agencies, and private residents.

Social distancing protocol, the closure of public and private schools, limited family gatherings to fewer than 10 people, no large public gatherings including church and community events, capacity limits in buses and taxis, and curtailed operating hours for allegedly non-essential businesses were restrictions authored by the COVID Task Force without input from the private sector.

“These austerity measures caused numerous small businesses to lose customers, employees, revenues, and new opportunities,” the Chamber pointed out. “Consequently, many small business owners have had to lean heavily on COVID relief programs from the federal government to survive.”


The Chamber also addressed “constraints on the local labor market” and explained that constraints are magnified when new workers are unable to travel to American Samoa.

“To illustrate the nuances of this concern,” the Chamber said the local population can be divided into two categories:

• Those IN the labor market — who are currently employed and currently unemployed but actively seeking employment; and

• Those NOT in the labor market — who are in the working age but unemployed and not actively seeking employment; Children; Retired seniors; Military personnel; Prisoners and other institutionalized persons.

According to the Chamber analysis, American Samoa tends to have a fairly high unemployment rate. “Data suggests, however, that the unemployment rate decreased dramatically during the pandemic,” it says. “This may seem good.”

 “But, the higher demand for workers and higher wages — e.g. in ASG — has enticed many of those that were employed in the private sector, and those that were unemployed with some marketable skills, to take employment with ASG for at least the short-term,” it says.

“The remaining, unutilized portion of the working-age population are more likely to be unskilled and undereducated,” the analysis said. Under this constraint, most local businesses are left with two bad choices:

• either hire unskilled/ undereducated workers now and suffer productivity losses, or

• forego hiring until skilled labor can travel to American Samoa and struggle through productivity losses.

“It’s important to note that the private sector is the largest employer in American Samoa. This constraint is therefore far reaching,” the Chamber said.


The Chamber also shared with the task force chairman, “things to consider”. It points out that as cases and deaths surged across the globe, “we saw many Pacific island nations mobilize resources and enact policies to build a COVID-Safe environment.”

For example, Fiji mitigated the spread of COVID-19 with the help of a nationwide lockdown in April 2021 and rolled out a massive vaccination campaign. This month, Fiji logged a 65.8% vaccination rate.

In terms of building its economy, the Chamber said Fiji launched a virtual trade expo as a platform for private entities to connect, network, secure imports, and negotiate exports.

“If American Samoa were to implement similar measures, and, created a bubble in this Pacific Region to foster commerce and safe travel between various Pacific Island nations, this could enable American Samoa to overcome some of the impacts mentioned above, e.g. supply shortages, shipping delays, airline frustration, constrained labor market, etc.,” the Chamber analysis concluded.

The analysis also provided references or the source of information for the region. See other issues covered in the Chamber’s impact analysis in previous editions of Samoa News this week.