[hepr-vn] FR-US/TRADE: A Fish by Any Other Name
vern.weitzel at gmail.com
Thu May 21 01:12:07 EST 2009
Subject: [vnnews-l] FR-US/TRADE: A Fish by Any Other Name
Date: Tue, 19 May 2009 23:40:10 -0700
From: Stephen Denney <srdenney at gmail.com>
To: vnnews-l at anu.edu.au
- OPINION ASIA
- MAY 20, 2009
A Fish by Any Other Name A protectionist battle in America over fish imports
stinks like yesterday's catch. | From today's Wall Street Journal Asia.
Would a catfish by any other name taste as sweet? Maybe, but a protectionist
battle brewing in America over fish imports from Vietnam sure stinks like
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing whether to classify the
Vietnamese pangasius as "catfish" when applying the 2008 Farm Bill, a
regulatory process mandated by the law. This isn't just semantics. Under the
farm bill, catfish are subject to more stringent inspections than pangasius.
Since Vietnam would not be able to implement the inspections cheaply or
quickly, it would effectively amount to an import ban. Domestic U.S.
producers are lobbying the Department of Agriculture for a broad definition
This is protectionism at its worst. Vietnamese pangasius is a different
species from the catfish raised in the Mississippi River and China. The U.S.
inspection requirement ostensibly is meant to ensure the safety of fish from
China. There are no serious concerns about the safety of Vietnamese fish
What gives the game away is the linguistic backflip of the U.S. catfish
industry, which has fretted over Vietnamese competition for years. In 2002,
American catfish producers persuaded Congress to pass a law stating that the
Vietnamese fish are not catfish and couldn't be marketed as such. When
calling the imports "basa," "tra" and "swai" didn't deter U.S. consumers
from buying the product, U.S. catfishers successfully petitioned Washington
to impose antidumping duties of between 36% and 64% instead.
Now American producers are willing to call the Vietnamese imports catfish
again if it helps keep them out. This Keystone Protectionism would be funny
if it weren't so serious. The Vietnamese fish are gaining market ground
because they freeze well and are sturdy enough to process for products such
as fish sticks; they are also more affordable than U.S. catfish. Blocking
their import will mean fewer options and higher prices for U.S. consumers.
An effective ban also threatens workers in the U.S. fish processing
industry, as House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, a Democrat,
noted in a letter to the Department of Agriculture last month. His
Massachusetts district is home to several processing plants that handle
Vietnamese fish. A protectionist finding would be a big setback for the
domestic Vietnamese pangasius industry, which forms the backbone of the
economy along the Mekong river and accounts for exports valued at more than
$1.4 billion in a country with GDP of around $90 billion.
President Obama talks about speeding America's recovery from recession and
restoring America's image and leadership abroad. The Administration already
has several trade disputes on its plate, from Mexican trucking to tariffs on
Vietnamese grocery bags and possible quotas on Chinese tires. If the
President is sincere in his rhetoric, he'll call it quits on those cases and
on this catfish canard.
More information about the hepr-vn