The call in the U.S. to place tariffs on Chinese seafood imports grew a little louder last week as a major industry group added its support to the proposal.
However, while U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) called last month on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to levy tariffs on shrimp and crawfish imports, John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, took it a step further.
“(T)he Southern Shrimp Alliance believes that the Administration should include all imports of merchandise produced through Chinese aquaculture in any Section 301 action,” Williams wrote in his 11 May letter to Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative.
In the letter, Williams pointed out the upward trend of Food and Drug Administration officials blocking Chinese seafood products for drug residues. From 2002-2017, China accounted for 42 percent of the denied products. In 2017, that percentage was 57 percent, but through the first four months of this year, it shot up to 91 percent.
Shrimp, by far, ranked first on the FDA’s refused list. More than 450 denials of shipments have come since 2002, nearly doubling eel shipments, which ranks second on the rejection list.
The push to place tariffs on Chinese seafood products comes at a time when both nations are discussing trade issues. When President Trump first brought up placing a 25 percent levy on Chinese imports, he focused mainly on technological products. China, then countered with a proposal to slap an identical tariff on American agricultural imports.
On Monday, 14 May, The Wall Street Journal reported the countries with the largest economies in the world were close to an agreement that might remove tariffs on U.S soybean and other farm-related commodities. In return, the United States would lift a ban on domestic companies from selling components to Chinese tech giant ZTE Corp.
However, the Journal noted the deal was not finalized and could collapse as American officials are “sharply divided” on Chinese trade issues.
Also on 14 May, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gave an address on U.S.-Chinese trade at the National Press Club in Washington. Ross, whose post has oversight over NOAA Fisheries, has been an advocate for reducing the nation’s seafood deficit.
In his remarks, he also listed safety concerns about imports.
“A lot of the seafood being imported here is grown in aquaculture under conditions that would never be permitted for a U.S. company,” Ross said. “So, it’s a kind of subsidy of them. There are also some health issues with some of those imports so we’re going to try to deal with that, and we’re also going to try to deal with how do we get to the maximum sustainable harvest in our waters, and how do we bring in selected elements of aquaculture done properly on our own part.”
SSA spokesperson Deborah Long told SeafoodSource her group continues to look for opportunities to support the Trump administration’s plans for improving trade worldwide.
“We'll also continue to build partnerships and coalitions with groups beyond the shrimp industry that are concerned about antibiotics in aquaculture and what gets consumed in our market," Long said.