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Trade Forum: Quit hiding behind tariffs and embrace globalization

Greg Rushford
Greg Rushford
August 01, 2005

Let’s see if there are any lessons to be learned from the string of seafood-antidumping cases that have roiled the industry in recent years.

If there is one notion that links all of the litigation, it would be a sense of perceived unfairness. Domestic salmon producers claimed that they were financially injured by “unfairly” lowpriced farmed salmon from Chile. Domestic crawfish producers accused China of “unfairly” selling cheap frozen tail meat to U.S. consumers. American catfish farmers railed against low-priced competition from Vietnam (and famously lobbied Congress to pass a law requiring that Vietnamese catfish be called basa). And the U.S. shrimp industry accused six Asian and Latin American countries of selling their shrimp to Americans at “unfairly” low prices.

In each case, the feds slapped on antidumping tariffs aimed at driving up prices of the foreign product. But the tariffs have failed to stop the flood of imports. Cheap Chilean farmed salmon still dominates the U.S. market. Frozen crawfish tail meat from China is still offered in grocery stores — even in New Orleans — at prices cheaper than the domestic product. U.S. consumers are still buying Vietnamese “catfish” by whatever name, some of which is clearly smuggled into U.S. ports and falsely labeled to evade the tariffs.

And countries like Indonesia that weren’t targeted in antidumping litigation have happily exported shrimp to America that otherwise would have come from the likes of India or China.

Beyond a doubt, the tariffs have not solved the problems of domestic industries that have fallen on hard times.

If protectionist tariffs don’t work, what does? I believe that the answer is in embracing globalization, not trying to hide from it.

I grew up in Peoria, Ill., where my grandfather acquired a goiter due to a lack of iodine in his diet. The first shrimp I ever saw was in the 1950s on a family vacation to Florida.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and Dixon Fisheries in a no-longer isolated Peoria brings the delights of the seas to the Midwest — including shrimp from everywhere. Is it unfair that, when Jim Dixon can’t find fresh shrimp from Louisiana, he brings it in from Thailand? Dixon is clearly offering a fair shrimp deal to Peoria consumers, who otherwise couldn’t get the stuff.

I now live in rural Rappahannock County, Va., which is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 90 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C. Nobody would immediately suggest that Rappahannock County is a model of globalization. However, Chef Jim McCullough at the acclaimed Bleu Rock Inn in Washington, Va., gets his fresh seafood by 24-hour air freight from anywhere in the world: sea bass from Chile and salmon from Alaska’s Copper and Yukon rivers, and also frozen shrimp from Thailand. He’s currently looking to source wild shrimp from Louisiana.

A few miles up Route 211, John Oravec and Terri Lehman operate a gourmet grocery store called the Epicurious Cow. A recent ECOW menu offered 10/15-count Alabama shrimp, some cooked cocktail shrimp from Thailand, crawfish tail meat from China, Alaska salmon and also organic salmon from Ireland. Creative, resourceful entrepreneurs who embrace globalization show the seafood industry’s present — and future. Antidumping tariffs don’t.

August 2005 - SeaFood Business

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