S.A.M.E. to take on Govt. if trading restrictions continue

The organisation responsible for representing manufacturers, exporters and even farmers says it will take on the Government over state of emergency trading restrictions if they are not soon eased.  

President of the Samoa Association Manufacturers and Exporters (S.A.M.E.), Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, said though he would prefer to avoid legal action, businesses across Samoa are already on their knees and facing permanent closure. 

He said he hopes the Government is reviewing the state of emergency orders and the extent to which they restrict regular trade and commerce in an already strained economy.

But if nothing changes soon, he says,  S.A.M.E. will be forced to act.

“If the Government doesn’t remove them, it’s something we need to address with the Government and start making certain demands for remedial action,” Tagaloa told the Samoa Observer.

“We are not going to sit quietly, we are going to need to take it up with them and something needs to be done.”

Tagaloa’s comments come in the wake of a prominent member of Samoa’s legal fraternity saying that several of the state of emergency orders may be beyond the scope of the emergency proclamation’s powers.

The S.A.M.E. President, who himself owns an export and manufacturing company, said he will give the Government the benefit of the doubt before pursuing any legal action.

“I am thinking if the intention was good, that’s fine, but if it’s done long enough now and it’s not necessary they should be done away with,” he said. 

“If some of the state of emergency [restrictions have] got no legal basis then our immediate reaction is that the Government should seriously look at this.”

A senior lawyer, who had asked to remain unnamed, said orders which do not specifically relate to the protection of Samoa from COVID-19 could be struck down by a judge.

They argued that orders that limit gatherings and impose trading and commerce bans on Sundays and during specific times of the day, for example, fall outside of the purpose of the March emergency proclamation.

Orders outside the scope of the initial emergency proclamation could be argued as a mistake or an attempt to expand the scope of Government powers, the opinion said.

Tagaloa said if nothing changes, many of S.A.M.E.’s members will not be operational in 2021, as they are already suffering from the lack of tourism and getting no support in the form of an enabling environment for commerce.

At least 80 per cent of S.A.M.E.’s members, with businesses ranging from the small to large and which include farmers, manufacturers, craftspeople and exporters, are struggling to pay their loans, or even the interest on their loans as agreed to by the banks, Tagaloa said. 

And though the Association is encouraging businesses to get creative, and companies are sharing their export markets and buying power with each other, there is only so far they can go on their own, he said.

“If this [state of emergency] continues to the end of the year or early next year, the banks and the Government will have to seriously consider extending the debt service terms in order for businesses to survive,” Tagaloa said.

With international aid entering Samoa intended to help the country respond and recover, the exporter hopes the Government will find the funds to help the private sector sustain itself.

One major hurdle he cites is a lack of ferry services between Upolu and Savaii, in particular the lack of ferry on a Sunday which was cancelled under the state of emergency.

Tagaloa says getting supplies from Savai’i on time has become near impossible, and the workweek starts poorly with several workers coming in late having had to catch one-of-two morning ferries on a Monday morning.

The disruption is costly in time, money and human resources and something needs to change, he said.

“The [state of emergency], whilst understandable [in] that there are reasons behind it, the rules of engagement in this  [state of emergency] have meant a negative impact on business.

“We are being obedient for the benefit of the overall good but if […] some of these rules are not necessarily in line with the purpose of the proclamation then I think they ought to be rectified.

“The country is going through a process of uncertainty and the more we do away with things causing that uncertainty the better for both sides, the Government and private enterprises.”

Under the state of emergency, trading hours have been restricted significantly. 

Retailers and hospitality businesses, previously allowed to determine their own hours, are ordered to shut by 7pm for supermarkets and 10pm for restaurants, with even steeper restrictions on opening hours for Sundays.

Extra restrictions have also been applied to Sundays, where just supermarkets, small shops, hotels and restaurants are allowed to open, and all other businesses are not permitted.

Tagaloa said that, from a manufacturing and export perspective, this limits a company’s viability to field orders of varying sizes and urgency.

The restrictions also mean companies cannot respond to the new commercial environment of depending on domestic trade for the bulk of the revenue.

Tagaloa says the closed borders are an opportunity for food manufacturers to increase their productivity and compete with imported products in quality, quantity and improved service.

S.A.M.E. is also working with the large supermarket outlets to prioritise putting local goods on their shelves to help push local producers to improve their product and compete with imported goods.

But the local producers barely have the capital improve themselves, either by increasing their human resources or to ramp up production.

“We have been asking the Government to try and assist these companies to upgrade to do that,” he said.

“There is a need to have access to competitive finance for exporters, farmers, manufacturers, all in the value chain that leads to export.”

The Prime Minister's office has been approached for comment.

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