A final ruling – which could come as early as June 16 – could impose tariffs ranging from 41 to 64 percent against the Vietnamese companies, whose imports of tra and basa fish have jumped from 5 million to more than 40 million pounds in the last five years.
The tariffs would be assigned based on the amount of economic damage the imports have done to U.S. catfish producers and processors.
“We had another win – we just keep stacking them up,” said Hugh Warren, executive director of Catfish Farmers of America. “But this isn’t over yet. There’s still a way’s to go. This was a preliminary ruling only but it feels good to know that others saw our case had merit.
“We’ve worked long and hard on this, come up with untold numbers of documents, and it’s been fruitful. As we continue to win these victories at each stage, we’re pleased for our farmers. I hope they see some light at the end of the tunnel now,” Warren said.
The decision was reached on Friday but wasn’t released until Monday afternoon. Shortly after the announcement, Warren says his office released an “extensive mailing to all our farmers. My phone hasn’t quit ringing since. Catfish producers are excited about this.”
The Vietnamese, as could be expected, aren’t. Officials in Vietnam, citing efforts to move the country toward open markets, worry about the impact to their economy. Their concern is legitimate: between 300,000 and 400,000 people work in the Vietnamese catfish industry.
U.S. producers have complained that the Vietnamese are pricing tra and basa at 30 percent to 50 percent less than U.S.-raised catfish. However, Vietnamese officials argue that the lower prices aren’t due to willful, illegal dumping, but due to lower labor and feed costs.
The day before the ruling, Phan Thuy Thanh, a Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, was quoted in the Washington Pos as saying a ruling against her country “would greatly reduce the confidence of Vietnamese enterprises…in the policy of trade liberalization.”
Warren isn’t surprised. “We expected the Vietnamese to complain. We must be concerned that they be treated fairly – and I think the U.S. Commerce Department is bending over backwards to hear their protestations – but we must also be vigilant that this preliminary finding be carried out.”
And, it could have been worse. Originally, CFA had asked for a much higher tariff.
“We believed the evidence we presented could have lead to higher tariffs. But we’re certainly pleased the numbers given weren’t lower,” says Warren.
That could have easily happened, he says, because the CFA believes Vietnam unfairly snatched at least 20 percent of the $590 million U.S. frozen fillet market through dumping.