The US International Trade Commission cleared the way for tariffs to be imposed on shrimp imports from six Asian and South American countries, but expressed concern that tariffs on India and Thailand would burden the tsunami-ravaged countries.
The commission on Thursday upheld last February's preliminary finding that imports had injured, or were likely to injure, US shrimp processors and fishermen. The panel reaffirmed with a 6-0 vote that frozen shrimp have hurt the US industry but voted 4-2 to scrap tariffs on canned imports, which make up about 0.4 percent of imports.
The ruling was the last major step before tariffs on imports from Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam become final.
"Overall, the case is done. The vast majority of the decisions, final. It is a great weight off of the shoulders of shrimpers," said Deborah Long, a spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance, an eight-state group of shrimp processors and fishermen that organized the antidumping petition.
She said there are only a few minor questions that still need to be resolved.
While upholding its decision on frozen shrimp, the commission left open the possibility of revoking tariffs on India and Thailand. The commission will review how badly the shrimp industries there have been damaged and decide if the tariffs should be lifted.
"The shrimp industry in these countries is the economic engine, in particular for Thailand. And do you want to place tariffs on one of the most important exports of these countries after they've been hit with this economic devastation?" said Paul Nathanson, a spokesman for a group of importers opposing tariffs.
"It is the absolutely worst time to be placing more taxes on the shrimp industry. Together with the tsunami, there are real questions of the viability of the Thai shrimp industry," said Brian Wynn, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based Rubicon Resources, a major importer of Thai shrimp.
Long disagreed. "While the tsunami has had devastating effects on human life, the shrimp infrastructure is relatively sound and we don't think it will change the legal case before the ITC," she said.
Wynn said shrimp farms in Thailand were mostly spared but that mangroves and hatcheries where shrimp are bred were seriously damaged. "It will have an immediate price impact."
A preliminary report on the tsunami's damage by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported widespread damage to shrimp hatcheries and operations and the loss of thousands of fishing vessels.
Duty rates for the six countries range between 2.3 percent and 112.8 percent.
Brazil faces duties between 9.6 percent and 67.8 percent; China between 27.8 percent and 112.8 percent; Ecuador between 2.3 percent and 4.4 percent; India between 5 percent and 13.4 percent; Thailand between 5.7 percent and 6.8 percent; and Vietnam between 4.1 percent and 25.7 percent.
"When poor quality and antibiotic-laced pond-raised shrimp is rejected by other countries, it's diverted here and unloaded at whatever price they can get," said John Williams, a Tarpon Springs, Florida, shrimp fisherman with the Southern Shrimp Alliance. "The illegal practice of dumping has turned our shrimp towns into ghost towns throughout the Southeast."