WASHINGTON -- Supermarket retailers have joined a new effort to keep world markets open after a group of domestic shrimpers filed a $2.4 billion anti-dumping petition seeking tariffs on shrimp imported from six countries.
The food industry has announced the formation of the Shrimp Task Force, an alliance between the Consuming Trade Industries Action Coalition and the American Seafood Distributors Association, set up to fight the petition filed with the International Trade Commission.
The trade case was originally filed in December against Thailand, China, Vietnam, India, Ecuador and Brazil, which account for about three-quarters of shrimp imports in the U.S. market, with a value of $2.4 billion. The petition, filed on behalf of shrimping businesses in the Southeast, alleges "dumping" of shrimp at below-market prices in the United States.
The growing level of questionable shrimp imports entering the U.S. market is hurting the livelihood of American shrimpers, according to stateside producers. Domestic shrimping businesses are struggling to survive, with operations closing, unemployment growing, and boats being repossessed, they said.
However, critics of the case, including U.S. supermarket retailers, restaurant chains, seafood distributors and processors, claim the tariffs would drive up retail prices on shrimp and hurt thousands of American workers in shrimp processing or distribution jobs.
In the United States, the food industry relies on foreign shrimping companies to supply enough product to meet the demand for shrimp, the No. 1 consumed seafood here. About 88% of shrimp is imported. Thailand, a major producer of farm-raised shrimp, is the biggest exporter to the United States. The balance of domestic and imported product has been relatively stable for more than 10 years. In 1993, about 180.7 million pounds of shrimp were produced in this country, compared to 708.7 million pounds of imported product, according to the National Fisheries Institute. In 2002, there were 195.7 million pounds of shrimp produced in the United States, compared to just over 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp from abroad.
"Shrimp is America's favorite seafood because of imports," said Wally Stevens, president of the ASDA. "This petition could take three quarters of this country's shrimp out of restaurants and grocery stores."
Officials at NFI are not taking sides in the case since the trade group represents members on both sides, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.-based association told SN. NFI has 700 members, including processors, farmers, brokers, distributors, exporters, importers, packers and wholesalers.
Even if a ruling comes down supporting tariffs, petitioners may not get the results they're seeking, she said, noting a history of earlier cases similar to the present case.
"What we've found is a decision in favor of tariffs doesn't necessarily produce the plaintiffs' desired effect," said NFI spokeswoman Linda Candler.
NFI does not have a sense of how the case will be resolved, Candler said. Importers appear to be planning for tariffs.
"There's been a big increase in imports in the first quarter of this year to get inventories full in anticipation of tariffs," she said.