Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday said Chinese and Vietnamese shrimp are sold at unfairly low prices in the United States, siding with U.S. fishermen as they try to fend off overseas competition.

The decision reaffirms new trade barriers on the country’s most popular seafood, though the new duties meant to counter the competition are not as high as requested by the industry.

“Although U.S. shrimpers believe the [Commerce] Department understates the amount of dumping in certain instances, they reaffirm our contention that shrimp is dumped in the U.S. market,” said Eddie Gordon, president of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents shrimpers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Vietnam and China have denied unfair competition.

“Our companies did not dump shrimp in the U.S. market,” said Chien Bach, spokesman at Vietnam’s embassy in Washington.

The Commerce Department determines a company is dumping a product if it is selling below the cost it charges in its home market or below the cost of production.

U.S. importers expect to pay more for shrimp from the two countries, though the impact on consumers is unclear.

“We’re just looking at a very small segment of the market,” said James Jochum, assistant secretary of commerce for import administration. “Putting on these various duties … it’s very unclear the direct impact it may have on prices.”

The U.S. shrimp industry contends there will be no impact, though importers warn that prices certainly will rise.

“It is possible to say [consumers] will pay a higher price for shrimp, but the final story hasn’t been written,” said Wally Stevens, president of the American Seafood Distributors Association and president of Slade Gorton Co., a seafood distribution company in Boston.

Mr. Stevens and other importers are still waiting for a Commerce Department decision on shrimp imports from four other countries — Brazil, Ecuador, India and Thailand. That decision is expected Dec. 20.

The six countries combined supplied roughly two-thirds of the shrimp consumed by Americans, according to government figures.

The six say they are simply more efficient than U.S. shrimpers because they export farm-raised shrimp, while U.S. producers fish in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Commerce Department yesterday largely reaffirmed an earlier ruling that Chinese and Vietnamese shrimp are dumped in the United States.

Chinese companies will be hit with the stiffest penalties. Four companies that account for an estimated 43 percent of Chinese shrimp sales to the United States will pay duties of up to 85 percent, while another 35 firms that account for another 42 percent of sales will pay 55 percent duties.

Most Vietnamese companies will pay a much lower rate, generally less than 5 percent.

The new duty rates take effect in about a week, though the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent panel of government-appointed judges, still has to make one more ruling, scheduled for Jan. 12, before duties are set for as long as five years.

U.S. imports of Chinese shrimp rose to 169.5 million pounds in 2003, up from less than 60 million pounds in 2001. Imports from Vietnam reached 124.5 million pounds last year, up from 72.8 million pounds in 2001.

The rising supply has driven down prices on imports for three consecutive years.

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