Solid Senate Support for Combatting Illegal Shrimp Imports

A bipartisan group of eleven powerful U.S. Senators has gone to bat in a big way for the domestic shrimp industry and U.S. shrimp consumers and against illegal shrimp imports by expressing their support for the full implementation of the new U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program. Their support was expressed in an April 27, 2017, letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

The letter, spearheaded by Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), and signed by Senators Cornyn (R-TX), Cochran (R-MS), Shelby (R-AL), Wicker (R-MS), Blumenthal (D-CT), Cruz (R-TX), Markey (D-MA), Tillis (R-NC), Kennedy (R-LA) and Strange (R-AL), cites the litany of illegal and fraudulent activities that plague much of the more than $5 billion of shrimp imported into the U.S. each year. These include evading U.S. antidumping duties recently extended by the International Trade Commission (ITC) on shrimp imports from China, India, Thailand and Vietnam in order to protect the U.S. industry – also with strong Congressional support.

The letter further cites the illegal use of dangerous, FDA-banned antibiotics by foreign shrimp farms and the unconscionable efforts of some shrimp importers to evade FDA’s enforcement of that ban designed to protect the health of U.S. consumers. As the letter notes, if that’s not bad enough, shrimp imports are also sometimes the product of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fisheries, as well as slave labor.

“Shrimp is by far the most valuable seafood import to the United States, and in turn, the scale and scope of fraudulent activities associated with shrimp imports transcends that of any other seafood import”, said John Williams, Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance which is on record in strong support of this program during and since its development.

The program would require importers of record to secure federal permits, and to report to the U.S. government and keep records on, subject to audit, essential data on any seafood shipment presented for entry into U.S. commerce. The purpose of this data is to both verify that the product was legal when it was first caught or raised on a farm, and to ensure that the legal integrity of that product was maintained throughout the supply chain of custody and not misrepresented at the U.S. border.

As it stated in its public comments when the program was first proposed, “SSA believes the proposed seafood import traceability program is among the most promising tools for combatting the rampant, widespread fraud associated with both wild and farm-raised shrimp imports as well as the incidences of IUU fishing in foreign shrimp fisheries which include human trafficking and labor abuses.”

As noted by the Senators in their letter, despite these extensive fraudulent activities, the application of the program to shrimp imports was delayed indefinitely in response to dubious concerns that the program may be subject to challenge under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The concern, raised by the previous Administration, is that U.S. shrimp farms are not required by regulation to retain or report to the U.S. government the same data on their shrimp production as is required of shrimp importers under this new program. And so, it was argued, any traceability obligations would be an unfair burden on imports.

“To put this into context”, said Mr. Williams, “shrimp imports represent over 90 percent of the annual supply of shrimp to the U.S. market, while U.S. shrimp farms supply a fraction of 1 percent. Given the damage illegal shrimp imports have done to our domestic shrimp industry over the years, and given the serious threat to the health of millions of U.S. shrimp consumers from long-term exposure to illegal antibiotics, holding this program up for shrimp imports was simply a very poor decision. It is not an unreasonable burden on trade to expect importers to be able to prove that their products are legal and are actually what they claim them to be.”

Mr. Williams added; “Apparently, the Senators agree and have urged the Secretary Ross to ‘lift the stay’ and implement the program for shrimp imports as quickly as possible. We would like to once again thank Senator Cassidy for his leadership and the many U.S. Senators who signed this letter for their extraordinary support for our industry. We expect their request for Secretary Ross to do the right thing to protect U.S. shrimpers and U.S. shrimp consumers will carry great weight with him as he has made clear his own commitment to advance the best interests of the U.S. when it comes to trade policies.”

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