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January 27, 2003

U.S. says Vietnam 'dumping' catfish in its market

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration Monday moved toward imposing anti-dumping duties ranging up to nearly 64 percent on catfish imports from Vietnam.

In a preliminary decision, the Commerce Department said Vietnamese catfish producers were "dumping" their product in the U.S. market by selling it at "less than fair value."

The ruling marks another victory for U.S. catfish farmers in their battle against their Vietnamese competitors, who supply about 90 percent of the U.S. catfish imports.

In a law aimed primarily at Vietnam, Congress has already prohibited any fish other than the Native American species from being marketed in the United States as catfish.

However, the Commerce Department's estimate of the degree of dumping was far less than the 190 percent level alleged by U.S. catfish farmers in their case filed last year.

In a fact sheet explaining its decision, Commerce estimated Vietnamese catfish producers were selling their product at 37.94 percent to 63.88 percent below fair value.

The catfish fight is the first big spat to emerge between the former war enemies since Congress approved a historic trade agreement with Vietnam in 2001.

Hanoi denies the dumping charge, saying several factors enable Vietnamese catfish farmers to sell their product more cheaply than their U.S. competitors.

Those include weather conditions that allow for year-round production, advanced raising technology, an abundant labor force and low input costs, Vietnam says.

U.S. farmers say the low-priced imports are damaging the market they have carefully nurtured over the past two decades.

Commerce's decision requires U.S. importers to post bonds in anticipation of final anti-dumping duties being imposed.

The department is expected to issue its final calculation of antidumping duties on April 9.

Vietnam could still avoid antidumping duties if the U.S. International Trade Commission reverses itself and decides the low-priced imports have not harmed U.S. producers.

In a preliminary decision last August, the independent trade panel voted 5-0 that there was a reasonable indication that U.S. catfish producers have been injured by the imports.

The ITC will make final decision this spring on whether the imports are injuring U.S. producers.

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