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Small businesses ‘dying a slow death’ in Samoa

Thursday 28 May 2015 | Published in Regional


APIA – Small local businesses in Samoa are dying a slow death. And one Apia-based businesswoman said she cannot stay silent about it any longer.

Moe Lei Sam blames the escalating problem on the government for promoting the influx of Chinese immigrants who have set up shop all across Samoa. She says locals cannot compete with the low prices they offer.

Lei Sam says she will take her grievances all the way to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his government in a bid “to help” Samoans.

“I have a very simple goal,” she said. “I’m not against competition but what I’m against is unfair competition and that’s what is happening a lot in Samoa today.

“All these new Chinese-owned businesses are killing genuine Samoan businesses with the rubbish they are bringing in.”

Two weeks ago, Lei Sam wrote a letter to the Samoa Observer, rallying local businesses to gather to discuss the issue.

In her letter, she said that during the recent Mothers Day, her shop recorded the lowest amount of sales ever since she started her business.

“The reason behind it is that the local businesses are no match for the Chinese businesses that have set up shop right across the whole country,” she said.

“Sources informed me that a shop in Apia belonging to overseas Chinese were selling all their products at just one tala. One tala for bras, for all kinds of products. How can we the local business owners match that?

“It does however bring to mind another question – are these people paying taxes like the rest of us? How are they able to sell their products for such low prices?”

None of the Asian-owned businesses approached by the Samoa Observer for a comment responded on the record.

But an Asian businesswoman operating a supermarket at the Vaitele area said they are competing with other local shops the same way as they would do anywhere else.

“We bring the products and we sell it at a price where we think we will make a sale,” she said.

“That is our simple logic. It doesn’t do us any good if we have products that are just sitting there unsold”.

Asked about claims of unfair competition, the Asian woman said: “I don’t know about that. We follow the same rules as everyone else”.

But Lei Sam, who is herself half Chinese, is not convinced.

“I don’t compete with rubbish and I don’t bring rubbish in the country,” she said. “We should encourage quality products to be brought in, not the rubbish these new businesses are bringing”.

Lei Sam said the new breed of Asian-run businesses are collecting “every penny” from poor local people who are fooled by the products.

“I’m worried about the future of Samoa,” she said. “I’m worried about the future for our young people? What is there for them if this keeps on happening?”

Lei Sam is also critical of Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration and its encouragement to Chinese immigrants.

“When the prime minister promoted their arrival and spread in our Samoa, he promised they were here to help our people, our community and our country,” she wrote.

“I don’t believe there is any truth in that because they have brought their own people whom they are giving jobs to within these businesses. Not many of our local people have jobs with these businesses.

“At the end of the day, however, what about the local business owners? Did the prime minister consider the risk on our part if these businesses were set up?

“First, they were seen only in the urban business zones, now they are everywhere. They are killing the small shops run by local Samoans in rural villages.

“I am concerned and I am sure there are many out there who share the same vibes. I am urging all local business owners that are facing the same problems as myself to come forward. We should take this another step and be very serious about it.

“If we don’t do anything constructive about it now, where is the future of our children and their children and their children after them?”

Lei Sam said she is calling on the local business community to speak up and contact her if they share her concern.

“We will protest, we will do anything to get our concerns across”.