Free trade between the CNMI and Guam was one of many subjects legislators and policy-makers of both territories talked about at the inaugural meeting of the Marianas Working Group at the Saipan World Resort last Friday.
Guam Sen. Wil Castro said in an interview last Friday that his group, the Health and Food Security Group, discussed setting up a possible free trade negotiation between the CNMI and Guam.
Recognizing the possibility of an overlap between Rota’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and Guam’s EEZ, Castro said it should be worth discussing free trade between the CNMI and Guam.
With the possible overlap in EEZ’s, goods brought from the CNMI to Guam or vice-versa should be considered inter-state travel, Castro said, as opposed to intra-state, which is subject to separate tax laws for each state or territory.
“We challenge ourselves to look at what is not only existing…but what we want to see happen; to foster the right climate for the exchange of goods and commodities in order to achieve the goal of food security before and after calamity,” Castro told Saipan Tribune.
The Marianas Working Group, which broke into seven smaller groups, included several key Cabinet members from the CNMI.
According to Finance Secretary Larissa Larson, who participated in discussions on finance and taxation, said there were several comparisons made between the two governments and how each handle their finances.
“Guam talked a lot about what they did to leverage their public utilities,” said Larson, adding that Guam floated bonds. “We were comparing notes on the bonds they floated, the bonds we floated, how they paid for their bonds, and how we do also. It was really interesting,” she added.
Larson said teleconference meetings would ensue between the two government regarding finances.
The similarities in issues were what kept the discussions going.
“We are all struggling with the same issues, so it was really good,” said Larson. She added that discussions were also held on possibly supporting one another on federal legislations.
Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter, who was a member of the Labor and Education Group, told Saipan Tribune that both the CNMI and Guam share pressing labor concerns that hinder economic growth.
“…It’s a matter of our vicinity on the globe and the unique challenges we have. We don’t have easy access to a supplemental labor market, so the discussions we’ve had have been fruitful…two days isn’t enough,” he said.
On the CNMI’s side, a lot has been learned from the programs that Guam has implemented.
“This is a beginning of a process. I think there may be some other things we could include in the future topic-wise,” Hunter said, adding that tourism, arts and culture, and language could be areas that both territories have mutual interests in.
Outside of the working group, Hunter said consultations between both governments are to ensue in the near future.
The Marianas Working Group is a result of a memorandum of understanding signed between the CNMI and Guam last Dec. 17, 2017, when Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Guam Gov. Eddie B. Calvo signed the MOU to support one another on shared issues.