May 28, 2004

 

 

US Retargets Foreign Shrimp Exporters

 

Attorneys for the U.S. shrimp industry already have filed petitions charging that foreign firms in six countries illegally "dumped" large amounts of shrimp in the U.S. market, hurting domestic producers. Now they're saying that foreign shrimp exporters in four of those countries compounded the alleged offense by increasing imports after learning about the threat of legal action.

 

The lawyers filed a complaint last week asking the Commerce Department to impose three extra months of tariffs retroactively on shrimp from China, India, Thailand and Vietnam as punishment for the additional imports.

 

The move is the latest action by the Southern Shrimp Alliance, a group of U.S. shrimpers and processors in eight states including Louisiana. The group alleges that companies in Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam have exported huge amounts of shrimp to the American market at below-cost prices, undermining the domestic industry. They want the Commerce Department to impose tariffs on imported shrimp.

 

Attorneys for the companies and countries in question, as well as U.S. seafood importers and restaurant and supermarket chains, say that increased imports and the low price of shrimp are the result of global competition and improved shrimp-farming techniques, not unfair trade practices.

 

The Southern Shrimp Alliance's latest action was made under a section of the trade law designed to prevent foreign companies from increasing their exports before an antidumping ruling. If it finds imports rose more than 15 percent in a given period, the Commerce Department can impose the extra three months of duties.

 

Alliance attorneys say that during a six-month period beginning in August 2003, imports from China, India, Thailand and Vietnam increased by 30 percent to 114 percent compared with the previous six months. They allege that foreign companies were responding to news that the alliance had voted to file an antidumping complaint.

 

"Thailand, India, China and Vietnam shipped massive amounts of dumped shrimp into the U.S. market to avoid duties, further injuring the U.S. shrimp industry and their communities," alliance President Eddie Gordon said in a statement.

 

Opponents say the alliance is selectively choosing time frames. They note that the Commerce Department typically uses a three-month period beginning when the antidumping action is filed, and that during that time -- from January through March 2004 -- imports from the accused countries fell.

 

"The only way the lawyers could conjure up even the remotest appearance of an import surge was to construct an abnormal time period," Wally Stevens, president of the American Seafood Distributors Association, said in a statement.

 

A Commerce Department spokesman said the department typically uses the three-month time frame starting at the filing date. But if an allegation is made that companies were acting on knowledge of an impending complaint, the department may opt to extend the time frame three months further back, he said.

 

The Commerce Department has announced it will make its preliminary ruling in July on whether to impose duties based on the original complaint. The spokesman said a decision on the latest complaint would be announced at the same time.