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One Man's Opinion: Winners and losers in the shrimp-dumping battle
March 01, 2005
A little more than a year after the beleaguered Gulf shrimp industry filed a dumping petition with the U.S. government, and about two months after the U.S. International Trade Commission issued its final ruling on duties, it’s time to sort out the winners and losers in this, The Mother of All Seafood-Dumping Battles.
The lawyers. As always in dumping cases, the big winners are the trade lawyers, who pocketed millions of dollars in fees from scores of producers in six countries who were forced to defend themselves. Now that this case is largely history, the lawyers are beating the bushes looking for another embattled U.S. industry to defend.
The spinners. The PR agencies, which were actively trying their best to spin the media, are also winners, although their fees are not nearly as fat as those of the trade lawyers.
The buyers. Retailers, distributors and foodservice operators gained continued access to cheap shrimp, their leading seafood seller. The relatively low countrywide tariffs imposed on big suppliers like Ecuador (4 percent), Thailand (6 percent) and Brazil (7 percent) and the emergence of Indonesia, which was not named in the suit, mean endless supplies of cheap, farmed shrimp far into the future.
Selected Chinese and Vietnamese producers. A mystery in dumping cases is how different companies that produce and sell basically the same product for a very similar price can have wildly different dumping rates. One big Chinese producer, Zhanjiang Guolian Aquatic Products Co., escaped with a 0 percent tariff, while the countrywide rate in China is a whopping 112 percent. Meanwhile some of Vietnam’s biggest producers will have a rate of less than 5 percent, while the countrywide rate is 26 percent.
Consumers. Shrimp will remain plentiful and affordable — at least in small and medium sizes.
Chinese producers. More and more American manufacturers like to blame low-balling Chinese producers for their woes. The biggest losers in the shrimp battle are clearly the Chinese, who, with a few lucky exceptions, will largely lose access to the U.S. market. Fortunately for the Chinese, they have a huge domestic market, and the EU has reopened its doors to Chinese shrimp.
U.S. shrimp breaders. Chinese value-added-seafood processors have jumped into breaded shrimp in a big way, as that product form was not included in the case. And nobody, of course, can compete with the Chinese. In 2004, U.S. imports of breaded shrimp from China more than doubled, to almost 9,000 metric tons. (Note to trade lawyers: Start calling U.S. shrimp breaders ASAP.)
The Gulf shrimp industry. Sure they got their tariffs, but they’re too tiny. Does anybody really think that’s going to change the dismal economics of an industry that is forced to chase shrimp around the ocean in fuel-guzzling boats? They’re trying to play the wild card, but that only goes so far if your quality is all over the board. A handful of Gulf processors and fishermen are hoping a windfall from the Byrd amendment payouts will provide a golden parachute, but the World Trade Organization declared Byrd violated WTO agreements.
The Mexicans. They doled out some dough to help the Gulf shrimpers, hoping they would get a leg up if their competitors were saddled with hefty tariffs. ¡Que lástima!