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Trade Forum: DOC adds insult to injury in South Asia

Greg Rushford
Greg Rushford
April 01, 2005

Days after the tragic Indian Ocean tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, killed up to 300,000 people and wreaked havoc in fishing villages in countries like India and Thailand, the U.S. Department of Commerce swung into action, putting out a press release announcing that it was “greatly saddened.”

But by Feb. 1, the saddened bureaucrats had pulled themselves together sufficiently to accuse Indian and Thai shrimp exporters of being “unfair” traders. Commerce hit the unfair folks in India’s shrimp industry with antidumping duties ranging from 5 to 15 percent. Thailand got off a bit better, with punitive tariffs of roughly 6 percent. If anyone at the DOC felt uncomfortable about kicking people in devastated fishing communities while they were down, it didn’t show.

At least the U.S. International Trade Commission, which voted on Jan. 6 that the unfair shrimp exporters in India and Thailand had injured American shrimp petitioners in the antidumping case, displayed a twinge of conscience. In the wake of the tsunami devastation, the ITC asked for public “comments,” to be submitted by late March, on the question of “whether changed circumstances exist sufficient to warrant review” of the dumping case. Near the end of this month, the commissioners will decide if they will take another look at the case.

Presumably, the survivors in India and Thailand who are currently desperately trying to put their lives back together are grateful for this.

Meanwhile, and without great fanfare, Steve Phillips — the CEO of Phillips Foods and a man whose personal experience in working in Asian fishing communities goes back some 15 years — simply extended a helping hand to the people he knows so well. While the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., were busy with their paperwork, Phillips quickly raised more than $30,000 to launch Operation Build-a-Boat. That money could double or triple this summer, if Phillips’ other ideas — such as plans for a fishing tournament in Ocean City, Md., this summer — work out.

For those of us who have learned to be skeptical about well-intended foreign-aid projects that too often prove disappointing, the most attractive aspect of Phillips’ operation is simply its utility. Phillips isn’t hiring consultants to come up with fancy plans for housing, fishing piers, schools and such infrastructure.

He’s simply enabling fishermen to build boats, so that they can start catching fish and generating cash.

“We wanted to do something that will be tangible,” explains Aden King, the Phillips Foods executive who is running the program.

For the Phillips corporate family, the tragedy was personal.

“We didn’t lose any direct employees, but we lost family members and fishermen we have worked with,” notes King.

A $500 check will build a dugout for two fishermen in Indonesia; $25,000 can build a fleet of eight 30-foot boats for 32 fishermen. As you read this, some of these boats will already be in the water. This is foreign aid that can be measured by results.

It also demonstrates good common sense. If only the antidumping bureaucrats at the Commerce Depart­ment, who weren’t “saddened” enough to do anything about the impact of shrimp tariffs on tsunami victims, and the ITC commissioners, who will decide later this year if they might do something to alleviate the suffering, would follow suit.

 April 2012 - SeaFood Business

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