Speaking as one could get more done
Last Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a 4-2 vote that ended months of drama over allegations of farmed shrimp trade subsidies on the part of seven nations — India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Ecuador.
The vote essentially declared that any subsidies from those seven nations are not doing enough adverse harm to the domestic industry to warrant countervailing duties. The Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries (COGSI), which filed the petition to get the countervailing duties in the first place, has publicly stated it’s not giving up, but you don’t have to be an attorney to see that even if the game’s not over on this one, there aren’t a lot of moves left.
It’s somewhat understandable that COGSI is sticking to its guns; after all, the group successfully got duties once before, but it can’t keep coming back to the proverbial well. If this keeps happening, COGSI runs the risk of looking less like a crusading organization fighting for the little guy, and more like a lonely man atop a rock shouting into the wind. Making matters worse, COGSI is not the only special interest seafood group using — or, depending on the situation, abusing — the system to help their little corner of our embattled industry.
Taken as a whole, it speaks to more than a mere tilting at windmills. It’s emblematic of an industry that remains too divided for its own good. It’s true that different seafood species demand different skills, equipment and industries to catch and process them; but while it may work throughout the rest of the world to keep the shrimp, crab, salmon and other seafood sub-industries in their own little bubbles, in America that culture is part of what’s keeping us on the back foot. In a country where 90 percent of our seafood is imported, the domestic seafood industry is perennially at risk of being overwhelmed by foreign competitors, and with the domestic industry fragmented by region, species or some other arbitrary wall, we are handing the first half of the “divide and conquer” strategy over to overseas exporters.
Regional groups, like the recently-formed Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI) are a good start toward fixing the problem. GSI members claim that they are looking to speak out for the entire seafood industry of the Gulf Coast region. They will, among other things, lobby Washington for new legislation that will benefit them, along with funding and other forms of support that the industry needs.
If GSI delivers on its promises, it will bode very well for the Gulf Coast industry, which has taken its lumps of late. The concept of regionalized lobbying is a proven model for success. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) has been instrumental in the building of the Alaska seafood community. Today, people listen with ASMI speaks. Together with the industry it backs, ASMI is supporting powerful voices in Washington and it is strong enough to make even the mighty retail giant Walmart sit up and take notice.
The American seafood industry may always have to struggle against foreign competition, but if it expects support from the government — whether it’s in the form of disaster relief, a ban on GM products, or legislation that promotes exports from the United States, not imports into it — They’ll have a much better shot at getting help with a collective voice. Our industry would do well to take a lesson from ASMI, GSI and similar organized groups.
Otherwise, we’re all just shouting into the wind.