Whole salmon processing line Marel

The U.S. government’s decision a week ago to lift a 20-year-old antidumping tariff on fresh Norwegian salmon came as much-welcomed news to the Scandinavian country. But removal of the 24 percent duty won’t result in a surge of fresh Norwegian salmon to the U.S. market, which Canada and Chile already dominate.

“Fresh whole salmon from Canada has a freight-cost advantage over all other salmon producers that have to use airfreight into the U.S. market, and the market for fresh fillets is dominated by Chile,” said Egil Ove Sundheim, director of market information for the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC).

In the first 11 months of 2011, Norway represented only a fraction of U.S. imports of fresh whole Atlantic salmon and a mere 13 percent of U.S. imports of fresh Atlantic salmon fillets, according to figures from the U.S. government.

“We do not believe that removal of the tariff will cause a large increase in the sales of fresh whole Norwegian salmon to the U.S.,” he explained. “The Norwegian industry has its main markets in EU and Russia, where they have an advantage in the closeness to the market.”

So why did Norway push hard for removal of the tariff this time around, especially since Canada and Chile already have a stronghold on the U.S. market? As required by international trade law, tariffs must be evaluated every five years, part of a process called a “sunset review.” But in each of three previous sunset reviews, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) sided with the domestic salmon industry.

“Removal of the tariff is, in principle, important for the industry. Norwegian salmon producers are, of course, pleased. The tariff has been considered an unfair obstacle to free trade for 20 years,” said Sundheim. “While we do not expect a significant increase in the exports of whole fresh salmon to the U.S. market, the decision opens for Norwegian producers to respond to demand from segments in the U.S. market willing to pay extra for whole fresh Norwegian salmon.”

In addition to the NSC, Marine Harvest, Grieg Seafood, Coast Seafood and the Norwegian government submitted testimony to the ITC in favor of eliminating the tariff.

“It is gratifying to see that all the hard work … led to removal of the duty,” said Sundheim. “We have made any effort possible to provide the U.S. government with the requested information throughout the whole process. I am happy to see that all our facts and information were fully considered by the ITC and that they unanimously decided to remove the tariff.”

The ITC hasn’t yet explained why it made its decision. The commissioners are expected to issue their opinion in the coming days.

The domestic salmon industry — which is represented mainly by Cooke Aquaculture, which owns and operates the Maine salmon farms that originally filed the antidumping petition in 1991 — has the right to appeal the ITC’s decision.

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