Pollock’s dodge of US tariff could leave market open to Russia

Published on
September 19, 2018

Another round of tariffs on Chinese goods approved by U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday may have inadvertently left the market open to Russian-sourced pollock processed in China. 

The tariffs, initially proposed in July, will go into effect on 24 September and affect an additional 5,745 products from China. While initially tariffs on frozen cod and pollock were planned, lobbying efforts by industry leaders successfully kept those items off the final list. 

However according to Jim Gilmore, director of public affairs for the At-sea Processors Association (APA),  the wording of the exemption for Alaska pollock may leave the U.S. market open to Russia-origin pollock that is processed in China and shipped to the U.S. 

The issue, said Gilmore, is the use of the term “Alaska pollock.”

“We believe this is an anachronism of a misleading geographical indicator remaining in use. That is, the term ‘Alaska pollock’ is used to define Russian-origin pollock as well as U.S.-origin Alaska pollock,” he said. “If we are reading the situation correctly that the [a]dministration is not distinguishing between U.S. and Russian origin pollock in excluding two HTS Code lines from tariffs, then Alaska pollock producers continue to be disadvantaged in this trade war with China.”

The specific issue, said Gilmore, has to do with two HTS Codes: 0304.75.10 and 0304.94.10. Under the decision on 17 September, the door could be open for pollock of Russian origin and processed in China to enter the U.S. duty-free using those codes. 

“If our interpretation is correct, Alaska pollock producers face stiff tariffs in China and Russia’s ban on U.S. seafood imports, including Alaska pollock, remains in effect,” Gilmore said. “Meanwhile, our principal international competition – Russian pollock processed in China – enjoys tariff-free access to our domestic market.”

Most Alaska pollock that originates in Alaska, said Gilmore, is primarily processed onshore or at-sea, and shipped to either foreign or domestic markets. Product that has been caught in the U.S., shipped to China for processing, and then shipped back to the U.S. is a relatively minor part of the businesses that the APA represents. 

“The amount of U.S. origin pollock sent to China for processing and re-exported to the U.S. that would also be exempted from tariffs is insignificant compared to the quantities of Russian-origin, Chinese-processed product,” Gilmore said. 

Gilmore said the APA is working to clarify the wording of the exemption in order to determine whether Russia-origin pollock processed in China will still be able to arrive in the U.S. tariff-free. 

“This certainly isn’t consistent with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s oft-stated position that it seeks to address the large U.S. seafood trade deficit, if the outcome is that Alaska pollock exporters face increased trade barriers abroad while our competition is exempted from U.S. tariffs,” Gilmore said. 

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