ASMI gets badly-needed grant funds from unusual source

PHOTO/James MacPherson/AJOC
The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is about to receive a virtually string-free $25 million grant to expand its international promotions effort. The only potential problem is that ASMI will get the money as Jamaican dollars on deposit in a Jamaican bank.

One of the stipulations in the law is we can only disperse this money in local currencies, explained Ed Covey, a marketing specialist for the U.S. Department of Agricultures Foreign Agricultural Service in Washington, D.C. The State Department cannot convert it to (U.S.) dollars. The recipients can convert it to any currency they wish to.

At a current exchange rate of 45 greenbacks to one Jamaican buck, the grant drops to 550,000 U.S. dollars. But ASMI is facing a $1.3 million cut in its overall fiscal year 2002 budget, mainly due to decreased salmon prices, and isnt in a position to be picky.

Ive heard some horror stories from some people depending on what currencies they seek, said K.C. Dochtermann, ASMIs international marketing director, but hes also found another recipient who secured its grant in U.S. currency for only a $20 fee.

What weve found is if they deal with an international bank its no big deal, Covey said. Theres administrative charges, but other than the currency devaluation, you have to figure that in, its being done.

The grant will allow ASMI to add $250,000 to its European Union promotional budget, $200,000 to its China program and $100,000 to a new Korean marketing effort. And while the available funds are dwindling, Dochtermann expects up to the equivalent of $5 million will be available from Jamaica and will apply for another grant from the so-called Section 108 program next year.

Its a program that came out of the Food for Peace program, USDAs Covey said.

That Carter-era program offered loans to needy countries to buy grain from U.S. suppliers. Loan repayments were not required for 10 years, and the borrowers had 10 years to repay the funds. They were also permitted to make the payments in their national currency, Covey explained.

Borrowers were also permitted to reborrow up to 95 percent of the repaid funds, but the remainder went to the USDAs market development program for U.S. exporters.

In 1996 the State Department began receiving repayment and managing recirculation of the funds in banks around the world, but it had no access to the money for its own use.

Around 1999 the State Department said give it to us, and thats when we made a conscious effort to spend it, Covey explained. We just werent pushing it to the extent we could. We were spending little dribbles of it, but it was coming in in big chunks.

Only seven countries participated in the original program, so funds are available in their currencies. Beside Jamaican dollars they include Costa Rican colones, Dominican Republic pesos, Moroccan durhams, Sri Lankan rupees, Guatemalan quetzales and Tunisian dinars.

Bob Tkacz is a free-lance writer living in Juneau. He can be reached at ([email protected]).

11/04/2001 - 8:00pm