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Point of View: Entrepreneurs overcome shrimp trade war

Property of SeaFood Business magazine
By Greg Rushford
December 01, 2007

Beleaguered U.S. shrimpers who ply coastal waters from Texas to the Carolinas launched a trade war in 2003 that resulted in antidumping tariffs ranging from 4 percent to more than 100 percent on shrimp imports from six Latin American and Asian nations. At one level, the litigation offers some basic economic lessons. The foreigners with their modern aquaculture had the comparative advantage over the U.S. shrimp fleet, which hadn't changed much in 50 years.

Supply and demand also came into play. The foreigners could supply U.S. demand for America's most popular seafood, while the U.S. shrimp fleet couldn't. And, as always, with economics come statistics, the most telling of which is that despite the tariffs, U.S. shrimp imports have risen from some $3 billion the year before the case was filed to more than $4 billion last year.

But while economic theories drive the shrimp war, the trade warriors themselves are not theoretical people. A look at the war's front lines through the eyes of three successful shrimpers themselves reveals insights beyond dry economics.

• In the bayous of southern Louisiana, Kim Chauvin and her husband David, a fourth-generation shrimper from Chauvin, La., who had built his boat, the Mariah Jade, faced a grim economic future in 2003. Many Cajun shrimpers had already gone under. But refusing to quit, Kim Chauvin took a course in business management at a local university, and launched the aptly-named Mariah Jade Shrimp Co. Now, the Chauvins own three boats and sell some 10,000 pounds of wild Louisiana shrimp a week to niche markets as far away as Minnesota - markets that didn't exist until Chauvin created them.

• In California, Christine Ngo also knows about hardships. Her father, Hua Ngo, piled his family into a boat in 1978 - Christine was then 4 - and fled from Vietnam. The Ngos eventually arrived, penniless, in San Francisco. After working as a minimum-wage laborer for two years, Hua Ngo started peddling fish in Chinatown. Today, Christine plays a key role in running H&N Foods, which last year generated $250 million in revenues from global imports of shrimp and other seafood.

• Seven years ago, Marine Gold Products Ltd., about a 45-minute drive south of Bangkok, began under the most inauspicious circumstances. When his mother launched the company in 2000, Choopong Luesukprasert, then only 26, recalls that Thailand was bleeding money due to the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Struggling, Marine Gold almost collapsed in 2002, just as the U.S. shrimpers were about to launch the antidumping litigation that would inflict 6 percent duties on the company's shrimp exports. Today, Luesukprasert is the managing director of Thailand's ninth-largest seafood exporter, which supplies shrimp worldwide, including major American retailers like Costco.

Chauvin, Ngo and Luesukprasert have fought on different fronts of the shrimp war. But in their entrepreneurial drive and determination to overcome hardship, tariffs or no tariffs, these trade warriors are very much alike.

 

Greg Rushford is editor of The Rushford Report, an online journal on trade politics and diplomacy in Little Washington, Va.

 

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