Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Taiwanese spark economic concerns in Marshall Islands

PUSHED OUT Small businessmen in the Pacific nation are worried that all the power is fast being concentrated in the hands of big foreign companies

AFP , MAJURO

The sale of the largest family-owned business in the Marshall Islands has underscored the increasing economic dominance of Taiwanese expatriots in this central Pacific nation and raised concerns yesterday about the future of small locally-owned companies.

Majuro Chamber of Commerce president Carlos Domnick warned that the sale of Robert Reimers Enterprises showed that the tiny Marshall Islands were heading down the same path as nearby Nauru, with almost all of its private sector run by outsiders.

Reimers, the oldest retail outlet on the Islands, has been bought by rival Formosa Store, whose owners are originally from Taiwan.

Difficult

Prominent businessman Dennis Momotaro said it was becoming increasingly difficult for local companies in the nation of just 55,000 people to compete against large foreign concerns.

"If [Reimers] is closing down, then imagine us small guys. Our days are numbered," Momotaro said.

"It's very sad. It's hard for the local companies to compete against these larger foreign companies."

More than 50 percent of the large businesses in the Marshall Islands are now owned by Taiwanese, many of them naturalized citizens.

Foreigners

In the early 1990s the Marshall Islands government sold tens of thousands of passports to foreigners, mostly Asians, and by the end of the decade a steady flow of the newly naturalized citizens began arriving in Majuro and establishing new businesses.

Domnick said the government needed to rethink the direction of its business sector.

"I would have thought that a big firm like Robert Reimers Enterprises would have been the last company to sell up, but now we've reached that point. It shows the level of hardship for Marshallese businesses," he said.

Another nauru

"I think because of this incident, this country needs to reassess how it wants its future, because the way it is going, we are looking at another Nauru in the making."

Reimers officials would not disclose the final sale price but said the company, which employs about 200 people, would continue operating its hotel, restaurant, office and apartment rentals, pearl farms, water bottling company, gas station and other operations.

The Marshall Islands is one of only six Pacific nations holding formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

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