Thursday, January 1, 2004

HANOI (AP) — Asian shrimp exporters yesterday said a U.S. antidumping lawsuit is an example of blatant protectionism and vowed to fight to keep overseas shrimp on American dinner plates.

The U.S. Southern Shrimp Alliance filed the lawsuit Wednesday with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission against Thailand, China, Vietnam, India, Brazil and Ecuador.

The alliance, an eight-state group of shrimpers and processors, says those countries have dumped shrimp on the U.S. market at unfairly low prices, crippling their industry in the United States. They want the government to impose tariffs on imported shrimp.

But exporters from the targeted Asian countries — representing three of the biggest exporters of shrimp to the United States — argue they have done nothing wrong and say the lawsuit is an example of Americans ignoring free trade to protect their own interests.

A ruling on the lawsuit is expected by mid-February.

“This move goes against the trend of global trade liberalization of which the United States claims they are the champion,” said Nguyen Van Kich of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers, which has retained U.S. attorneys to fight the lawsuit.

The United States buys the biggest portion of its imported shrimp from Thailand, shipping in about 194,000 tons worth $1.1 billion in 2002, according to Thai figures. Officials there say U.S. sanctions would force them to seek new markets for 30 percent to 50 percent of their shrimp exports.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance says the value of U.S.-harvested shrimp was cut in half — from $1.25 billion in 2000 to $560 million in 2002 — with a 40 percent drop in employment at Southern shrimp plants. Meanwhile, it says imports from the six targeted countries increased from 466 million pounds in 2000 to 780 million pounds in 2003.

The European Union and Japan recently clamped down on shrimp imports because of concerns about antibiotics in farm-raised shrimp, forcing more exporters into the American market at lower prices. The U.S. shrimpers’ group says American imports are not held to the same health and safety standards as domestic shrimp.

But Abraham Tharakan, president of the Seafood Exporters Association of India, called the lawsuit “unfair and discriminatory.”

Seafood exporters in Asia are trying to form an alliance to fight the lawsuit, and the Indian government will be asked to help, Mr. Tharakan said.

The United States is India’s second-largest shrimp buyer after Japan. Nearly a quarter of India’s shrimp exporters’ $1 billion-plus earnings come from American imports, Mr. Tharakan said.

China’s Commerce Ministry did not answer repeated phone calls to its offices yesterday. Neither its Web site nor the official Xinhua news agency carried any reaction to the lawsuit from Beijing.

In Vietnam, officials are especially concerned because the International Trade Commission ruled in July that the communist country dumped catfish on the U.S. market. The commission imposed duties ranging from 36.84 percent to 63.88 percent on Vietnamese catfish exporters.

But Vietnam’s catfish industry is tiny compared with its shrimp business. In 2002, the country was the United States’ second-largest shrimp supplier with exports worth $467.3 million, compared with $55 million for catfish.

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