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Point of View: Entrepreneurs overcome shrimp trade war
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
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
• 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,