- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A U.S. panel yesterday said imports are hurting the American shrimp industry, setting the stage for trade barriers that could raise the cost of the delicacy.

Shrimp fishermen and processors from eight Southern coastal states in December complained to the U.S. International Trade Commission that unfairly priced imports from six Latin American and Asian nations had cost thousands of jobs and forced hundreds of companies to close.

The ITC, in independent government panel, yesterday said that the shrimp industry is threatened by frozen and canned imports from Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam. The decision sends the investigation to U.S. Commerce Department, which will determine whether the imports are sold below market value and consider duties to raise the price on shrimp from the six countries. The department is expected to make a preliminary ruling in June.

“Demand for shrimp is at record high levels, surpassing tuna as the number-one seafood consumed in the United States. Yet U.S. shrimpers and processors are not able to make ends meet due to the increasing amount of unfair trade,” said John Williams, a shrimp fisherman in Tarpon Springs, Fla., and a member of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.

The alliance belongs to the ad hoc group of fishermen and processors that filed the complaint.

The American Seafood Distributors Association, based in Arlington, has strongly opposed the shrimpers’ complaint on behalf of seafood importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers.

“Our livelihoods are also at stake in this case, as is the ability of consumers to have continued access to a former luxury item — shrimp — that is now available to them at a price they can afford,” Wally Stevens, association president, said in a statement.

The six nations targeted in the complaint, which raise shrimp on farms rather than catching them through commercial-fishing operations, did not immediately respond but have repeatedly denied any unfair competition.

“No legal action will change the fact that farm-raised shrimp from exporting countries is more cost effective than U.S. wild-harvested shrimp,” the nations said in a joint statement released last month by the Thai Embassy in Washington.

U.S. shrimp imports for all of 2003 are expected to reach a record 1.1 billion pounds, worth an estimated $3.7 billion, the Agriculture Department said in a report.

Imports of processed and frozen shrimp grew quickly during the first half of 2003, the most recent USDA figures available, while fresh shrimp imports fell 9 percent.

Rising production has driven down prices paid to U.S. fishermen.

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