They fear the worst. As the growth of foreign-owned businesses continue at an alarming rate, small business owners, from elei makers to corner shop operators, are worried that they will soon be squeezed out completely.
One place where these fears are openly discussed on a daily basis is Samoa’s industrial area at Vaitele where there is a marked growth in the number of Asian-owned businesses from restaurants to retail stores.
For example, down at what used to be the Vaitele market, the progress of what appears to be a large store being built inside the market where farmers used to sell their produce is making vendors there very nervous.
The store belongs to the owner of Coin Save; one of the fastest-growing Chinese owned and operated businesses in the country. The owner, Tu’itu’itoaiga Teeking Weng, has been given permission by the government to develop the $5.7million complex.
A business owner who only wanted to be identified as “Lae” said he is worried about his future.
“When this shop opens, they too will get into selling clothes and elei,” he said.
“As a businessman, I’m worried about the effect of this big one (business) on my small shop here at Vaitele.”
The small business owner is aware of Coin Save’s popularity with the latest styles sold at cheap prices.
“We stand no chance with these big businesses,” Lae said. “There’s no way we can compete with the Chinese nowadays, and we all know that, many of our people are now on the road selling BBQ’s to earn a living.”
Lae blames the government for making it too easy for big businesses to squeeze out the little ones.
“The government is babysitting these foreigners by granting them big loans, giving them buildings to house their businesses but letting our people stand in the sun and the rain to sell what we have on the side of the road.”
Frustrated, he said the government continues to push foreign businesses, such as those belonging to Asians, ignoring the needs of the locals.
“The fact is, if they allow them to occupy the whole of Samoa and give them loans from people’s contributions to the N.P.F. and leave us to sell on the road, that’s really sad.
“Nowadays, if we (businesses) are looking at getting a loan it takes ages for us to wait and in the end ...nothing is approved, but we are the people of this country.
And yet the government allows foreigners to loan from our money, to improve their way of life and living.”
Another stall owner agrees.
Ioane said he is considering closing his business altogether.
“I think that’s the only option now,” he said. “I have to find another way to earn money for a living especially (since) I have children to be fed and put in school.
“How am I going to get profits if this Chinese is going to run the whole of this area?”
According to Ioane, most of the shops at market have closed.
“When they heard that the other Chinese big shops in Samoa are coming here, they gave up. These shops sell everything that many of the small businesses in this area are selling.
“Like clothes, food, restaurants but there are food businesses here already and are run by other Samoan people.
“The government don’t care about us, Samoan people, all they care about is money.”
It was not possible to get a comment from the government at press time.
Attempts to get a comment from Coin Save were also unsuccessful.
But Ioane and Lae said something has to be done.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Lae said.
“Especially, when we look at this area, it’s really hard to compete with other big shops around.”
Life is tough enough as it is as the sales are very low.
“Ever since I’ve opened my shop here, the sales are very slow, but we always try our best.
“Now, the problem could be even worse if this Chinese business opens here soon, and to tell you the truth I believe many of us here will be closed.
“And where will we go? What about us and our families?”