- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2005

A federal agency yesterday said it would consider eliminating U.S. tariffs on Thai and Indian shrimp, a concession to economic damage from the Dec. 26 tsunami that swept over Indian Ocean coastal areas.

The U.S. International Trade Commission in January said shrimp from Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam was being dumped in the United States at less than fair value, and imposed trade barriers. Weeks after the tsunami, India was subject to 10.2 percent tariffs and Thailand 6.01 percent.

The commission, made up of judges nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, said the destructive tidal wave might have changed circumstances enough to warrant revoking shrimp tariffs on two nations. In a rare review, it will decide in the next three months whether to eliminate the tariffs.

“I think it’s a good sign and warranted. The ITC made the right decision to investigate the decision, and I’m confident they will decide to revoke,” said Ken Pierce, a lawyer with Willkie, Farr & Gallagher LLP who is representing India in the case and has worked for Thailand’s frozen shrimp industry.

U.S. fishermen, who won the protection by showing exports from the six countries were threatening their business, say they should not be singled out to assist economies struck by the disaster.

“If anti-dumping duties are removed on India and Thailand in the name of helping tsunami victims, the U.S. shrimp industry will continue to hemorrhage as a result of dumped imports,” said Joey Rodriguez, president of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents fishermen from eight states.

India’s shrimp exports to the United States during the first two months of the year declined by 57 percent by weight compared with the first two months of 2004, National Marine Fisheries Service figures show. Thailand’s exports dropped 35 percent.

It is not clear how much of the decline is attributable to the tsunami, the tariffs or other factors.

Mr. Pierce said the tsunami destroyed about one-third of Thailand’s shrimp hatcheries and about one-third of the boats used by Indian fishermen.

The tsunami, triggered by an earthquake off Indonesia’s coast, killed 10,776 persons in India and 5,395 in Thailand, U.S. government data show. More than 158,000 were killed in six other nations.

The international response was swift and generous. As of April 6, 92 governments had pledged $5.8 billion, with several billion more raised by private individuals and corporations, the United Nations said.

The U.S. government has pledged $350 million in humanitarian and recovery assistance, and committed $132.3 million to specific projects, the U.S. Agency for International Development said last week.

The House and Senate have passed bills that would bring the total to $656 million for tsunami disaster relief.

The hardest-hit countries, such as Sri Lanka, also have asked for easier trade terms to bolster their exports, though U.S. industries have objected and Congress has been less willing to lower trade barriers for the developing countries.

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