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New law will tighten 'Made in Hawaii' rules


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POSTED: Friday, June 05, 2009

A bill attempting to hold goods labeled as “;Made in Hawaii”; more accountable was signed by Gov. Linda Lingle on Monday and goes into effect on July 1.

While Senate Bill 1223's original intention was to increase the requirements for the amount of Hawaii labor or materials in a product to 65 from 51 percent in order to use the label, the final bill signed kept to the former ratio.

“;We want to protect our artisans and craftsmen,”; said Sen. Brickwood Galuteria (D, Downtown-Waikiki), who introduced the bill, “;so that what is made in Hawaii, the genesis of it really is in Hawaii and with hands in Hawaii.”;

Under current state law, a box of chocolates, for instance, can be made up of chocolate imported from elsewhere, but if more than 51 percent of the finished product was processed and packaged here, it could be labeled as “;made in Hawaii.”;

Every stage of production can count - from transportation to refrigeration, packaging, graphics, design and assembly, according to Matthew Loke, an administrator at the state Department of Agriculture.

Many other products, from candy to grass hula skirts, also use or advertise the Hawaii name or image, although they might be manufactured elsewhere.

The final bill, however, did not increase the requirements, but added two new definitions and directed the state Department of Agriculture to establish a working group to come up with enforcement solutions 20 days before the 2010 legislative session.

The two new definitions added to existing Hawaii law include “;craft item,”; which is defined as an item that cannot include a mass-produced commodity, nor an item that was assembled from two or more mass-produced commodities.

The definition of “;perishable consumer commodity”; was clarified as including baked goods, dairy products, cut or dried flowers, coffee, candy, cookies, jam, jelly, juices, oils, nuts or similar products.

Michael Among, owner of T-shirt company Neva Say Neva, said he's known of vendors who simply take an imported item, cut off the label and replace it with a “;made in Hawaii”; one.

Among said suspicious businesses won't be able to tell you where their factory is, and often use P.O. boxes to mask their real locations.

The most recognized event, of course, is the annual Made in Hawaii Festival, which takes place this year from Aug. 21 to 23 at the Blaisdell Arena.

Richard Botti, president of the Hawaii Food Industry Association, which produces the festival, was at first concerned because most vendors already turned in applications under the old law.

A sudden change in the law a month before the festival could have been a bureaucratic nightmare, he said, but the bill does not affect proceedings that began before its effective date of July 1.

The Hawaii Coffee Co. and Hawaiian Host Chocolates testified against the original bill increasing requirements, saying it potentially could create hardship for companies, both large and small.

Christine Gomez, a Honolulu jewelry maker, testified that many vendors have claimed their products are “;Made in Hawaii”; when they are not.

“;For many vendors, that means they are allowed to take an imported item and just enhance it by either gluing something on top or stringing a few things on a cord,”; said Gomez in written testimony.

Other examples, she said, include a lau hala bag made in the Philippines with 10 minutes of Hawaii labor - hot-gluing a decoration to the outside, for instance. Gomez said she also has participated in events claiming to feature “;Made in Hawaii”; products only to find vendors taking items to sell out of boxes labeled “;Made in China.”;

It is difficult to compete in this type of setting, she said, and there needs to be dependable enforcement of both vendors and promoters.

“;If nothing is done to change this, the phrase 'Made in Hawaii' will mean little more to the average buyer than the phrase 'Made in China,'”; said Gomez.