A preliminary ruling in favor of U.S. catfish producers was announced Jan. 27 by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The ruling — a precursor to the department's final determination to be issued by June 16 — found that Vietnamese catfish has been illegally dumped into the U.S. market.

Tariff penalties for imported tra and basa (species of Vietnamese catfish) will range from 41 percent to 64 percent. Vietnamese companies were assigned a tariff percentage corresponding to how much dumping and damage they did to the U.S. market.

“We had another win — we just keep stacking them up. But this isn't over yet,” says Hugh Warren, executive director of Catfish Farmers of America (CFA). “There's still a ways 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.”

The decision was reached Jan. 24 but wasn't released until Jan. 27. 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.

Why are U.S. producers threatened by the imports? Because Vietnamese tra and basa cost some 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 Post 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 led to higher tariffs. But we're certainly pleased the numbers given weren't lower,” says Warren.

That could have easily happened, he says, because Vietnam unfairly snatched at least 20 percent of the $590 million U.S. frozen fillet market through dumping.


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.