WASHINGTON, D.C. – Mississippi’s senators are encouraging the U.S. Department of Commerce to uphold a fair trade decision that begins to protect U.S. catfish producers from underpriced frozen fish fillets from Vietnam.
In a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), have asked the commerce secretary to uphold a decision reached last summer that determined U.S. catfish producers have been harmed by unfairly-priced frozen fish fillets from Vietnam. The Commerce Department continues to review an ongoing antidumping action on fillet imports from Vietnam.
“We are writing to ask you to ensure that the Vietnam Frozen Fish Fillets antidumping proceeding is conducted consistent with the commitment of this Administration to vigorously enforce U.S. trade laws,” said the letter signed by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Cochran, Wicker, John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Pryor (R-Ark.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “Your department correctly concluded in the review completed last year that Bangladesh was not a proper market economy surrogate and that Indonesia was a superior choice. That decision was detailed and well-founded. As a result, the Vietnamese dumping was properly evaluated, and many Vietnamese exporters became subject to appropriate antidumping duty deposit rates. We now have some hope for recovery in American catfish production. However, the industry will not be able to recover unless equally sound choices of surrogate country and values are made in the current review.”
The letter also encourages the Obama administration to resist pressure from the government of Vietnam regarding the antidumping duties applied to its products.
“While our trading relationship with Vietnam is important, the same can be said for our trading relationship with virtually every country whose products are the subjects of U.S. antidumping proceedings. We urge you to insist upon the full, fair and vigorous application of our trade laws, and to appreciate the critical importance to our industry and our states of ensuring fair trade in Vietnamese imports of frozen fish fillets. We ask that you ensure that pressure from the Vietnamese Government is not a factor in your Department’s decision-making in this proceeding,” the senators wrote.
The domestic catfish industry has experienced steep declines since 2008 due to foreign imports. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that indicate the market share maintained by U.S. catfish producers dropped from 80 percent to 20 percent since an antidumping case against Vietnam was filed.
The dumping issue is not the only problem the United States has encountered with fish imported as catfish. In recent years, imports from Southeast Asia have been found to contain dangerous chemicals and substances banned for use in the United States. In response, the 2008 farm bill transferred responsibility of catfish oversight to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure a more stringent inspection process.
Because the 2008 provision had not been implemented, the recently enacted 2014 farm bill again more forcefully directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue implementation of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program. This program will allow Mississippi and U.S. catfish producers to compete on a level playing field, and ensure that American consumers have access to clean farm-raised catfish.