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Guam-NMI lawmakers want trade pact with Korea

Marianas Variety, Northern Marianas Islands

Guam-NMI lawmakers want trade pact with Korea

22 May 2012

By Emmanuel T. Erediano - Reporter

Lawmakers from Guam and the CNMI are organizing themselves to lobby for the inclusion of two territories in the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement.

Visiting Guam Sen. Frank F. Blas Jr. also discussed with CNMI lawmakers yesterday morning the first meeting of the Mariana Islands Legislature Association that he wants to hold on Saipan next month.

Blas has introduced Resolution 375-31 complementing former CNMI Rep. Diego T. Benavente’s House Joint Resolution 17-1.

Adopted two years ago by both houses of the CNMI Legislature, H.J.R. 17-1 supports the formation of the Marianas Islands Legislature Association. It states that both Guam and the CNMI “share common interests and concerns such as in the tourism market, barriers to economic development in part due to the unanticipated effects of federal statutes and regulations in the indigenous ancestral ties.”

Blas’ resolution states that “now is an appropriate time for the representatives of Guam and the CNMI to mutually discuss and explore areas of possible cooperation for mutual benefit, including but not limited to joint economic development, law enforcement assistance, academic and cultural exchanges, health care facilities, personnel and governmental or political exchanges and cooperation and to examine the possibility of creating formal entity for these purposes consisting of an equal number of representatives from the CNMI and Guam.”

Blas said he already conducted a public hearing on this resolution and he is very confident it will be passed unanimously by Guam’s Legislature later this month.

“I anticipate that, based on conversations or discussion I had with my colleagues, it would pass unanimously,” he said.

He said it is very important for the lawmakers of neighboring territories to organize themselves because it will help them deal with many challenges and opportunities “that lay before us.”

Blas said one of the areas that they should look into is the free trade agreement with South Korea.

The treaty was first signed on June 30, 2007; renegotiated in early Dec. 2010; passed by the U.S. Congress on Oct. 12, 2011; and ratified by the National Assembly of South Korea on Nov. 22, 2011.

Blas said the treaty included all the 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico but not the CNMI and Guam.

He noted that the Marianas are the closest U.S. soil to the Asian country so he wonders why they are not included in the treaty which would greatly benefit the two territories’ economies.

“It would make sense that if you want to have a trade agreement like this, the Marianas would be an ideal place,” he said.

Blas said there are other free trade agreements the U.S. has been negotiating with other Asian countries but none of those would include Guam and the CNMI.

“Why ?” he asked.

Blas said the legislatures of Guam and the CNMI should lobby for the islands’ inclusion in these free trade agreements.

Rep. Joseph M. Palacios, R-Saipan, said he does not know if the White House “intentionally left us out or just forgot about us because we are very tiny islands.”

Sen. Juan M. Ayuyu, Ind.-Rota, said it is sad to hear that the U.S. did not include Guam and CNMI in treaties that could help boost the islands’ economies.

“Why are we not given the opportunity to participate? We should ask our delegates to the Washington., D.C. What happened?” Ayuyu asked.

Here’s why

In a telephone interview, U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said it was the NMI that negotiated in its Covenant with the U.S. to be excluded from U.S. Customs jurisdiction. He said the nation’s free trade agreement with South Korea is for jurisdictions under U.S. Customs.

He also noted that when the treaty was signed he had not been elected congressman yet.