After coming off second best in a trade dispute with the US over catfish exports, Vietnam is bracing itself for a follow-up assault by the US shrimp industry.
US shrimpers say that low-priced, pond-raised shrimp from Vietnam and other Asian and Latin American countries are being dumped at below cost on the US market to the detriment of domestic producers.
As a result, the Southern Shrimp Alliance -- a coalition of eight southern and eastern seaboard states -- is mulling legal action against foreign shrimp exporters.
Shrimp is imported into the US from 20 countries to meet the huge domestic demand for the tasty crustaceans, according to the American Seafood Distributors' Association (ASDA).
The list of countries being targeted has not been finalised, but industry sources say Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam are among those who could find themselves in the cross hairs.
If Vietnam is named in any anti-dumping lawsuit, it would be another hammer blow to the country's seafood industry, its third biggest export sector after crude oil and textiles.
"We are extremely worried about it," said Tran Quang Chieu, director of the state-owned Ca Mau Frozen Seafood Processing Import Export Corporation (Camimex), one of Vietnam's largest shrimp exporters.
"We are absolutely not dumping our shrimp and we welcome US trade authorities to come and have a look for themselves. But if action is taken we are afraid we will lose because the US is stronger than us," he said.
Shrimp accounts for Vietnam's largest seafood exports, and the US was its largest shrimp export market in last year, accepting US$467 million worth or 48 percent of total Vietnamese shrimp exports.
In contrast, catfish exports from the communist nation to its former military foe only reached US$55 million last year, according to Vietnamese trade figures.
The US shrimp industry has been examining its best course of action for over a year, but to date it has not lodged formal anti-dumping complaints with the US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).
But the ITC's final ruling on Wednesday that Vietnamese catfish exports have injured the domestic market, and the resulting imposition of punitive tariffs, could well spur it into pursuing legal action.
Follow the leader
"US shrimpers will see this and think they can now win too. And not only them -- other sectors could also follow suit," said Nguyen Huu Dung, general secretary of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers.
The ITC's guilty verdict was the final stage of an investigation initiated in June of last year by the US catfish industry when it charged Vietnamese producers with dumping.
Vietnam had vehemently refuted the accusations, saying its exports to the US catfish market are low priced because Vietnamese producers are able to breed the whiskered fish far more cheaply than US farmers.
Its denials, however, failed to sway the ITC and the Commerce Department, which, in its part in the investigation, ruled last month ruled that Vietnamese frozen catfish fillets were being dumped.
The dispute was the first major test of the US-Vietnam trade pact, which came into force in December 2001, prising open the Southeast Asian nation's markets to US investors and slashing tariffs on its US-bound exports.