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StarKist operation under threat from the Chinese tuna industry operating in the Pacific

American Samoa’s biggest employer StarKist Samoa says its operation is under threat from the highly-subsidized Chinese tuna industry operating in the Western Pacific.

This is according to a letter addressed to the School Meals Policy Division, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, endorsed by Michelle Faist, StarKist Head of Corporate Affairs & Government Relations.

Dated May 10, 2023, the letter is in response to USDA's proposed rule “Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Regarding the buy American domestic sourcing standards, Faist says it presents challenges for any business operation – particularly for StarKist as they compete directly with products sourced off-shore, which benefit from a price advantage due to comparatively lower labor costs.

Faist said tuna is the most consumed fish in the world, with 70 percent of the world’s tuna coming from the Pacific Ocean.

StarKist’s operations in American Samoa and being the largest private sector employer, are consistently under threat from the highly-subsidized Chinese tuna industry operating in the Western Pacific, which typically offers tuna products at a fraction of our cost due to state subsidies and fewer regulatory restraints.

Faist says loopholes in the Buy American provision allow for the purchase with U.S. tax dollars of foreign-sourced tuna, including subsidized Chinese products.

As currently drafted, the proposed revisions do not adequately close these loopholes.

Faist also cited the fact there is no specific cost standard for this exception creates a scenario where schools can easily render a domestically-sourced product as too expensive to purchase, and instead opt to purchase lower-cost, subsidized products sourced from China or elsewhere.

The Department’s failure to include any specificity in the guidance regarding exceptions to Buy American requirements comes at a time when American-sourced tuna products face significant unfair competition from other nations with highly subsidized tuna operations.

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