Two U.S. senators have reached out to the country’s top trade representative, asking him to support the repeal of a seafood inspection program at the heart of a Vietnamese complaint to the World Trade Organization.
Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) sent a letter to Robert Lighthizer on Monday, 19 March, saying the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Catfish Inspection Program threatens agricultural trade with Vietnam. The Southeast Asian nation ranks as America’s tenth-largest agricultural export market.
Specifically, McCain and Shaheen want Lighthizer to support the program’s repeal before the 60-day consultation period with the WTO begins. Last month, Vietnam filed an official complaint with the international trade organization saying the inspection program presents an illegal trade barrier.
Since it began, the USDA initiative, which stems from the 2008 Farm Bill, “has done nothing more than erect a damaging trade barrier against Asian catfish imports to protect a handful of domestic catfish farmers in Southern states,” the senators said.
A WTO decision against the U.S. could affect exports on such products as cotton, meat, fruit, and eggs. Further, because domestic seafood producers can’t meet American consumers’ demands, seafood imports create more than 500,000 jobs, the senators added.
The USDA officially took over control of the catfish inspection program from the Food and Drug Administration last September after an 18-month transition period, resulting in a drastic slowdown in the amount of product Vietnamese processors sent to the U.S. last year.
Vietnamese officials have noted that while 62 companies were registered to export catfish to the U.S., only 10 have continued to ship products following the USDA takeover.
However, as the senators noted, the USDA, the FDA, and the Government Accountability Office all have publicly stated that the inspection program serves no real purpose as there is “no legitimate safety concern” with imported catfish.
“Further, we have been pleased that President Trump has requested elimination of this program in his last two budget requests,” McCain and Shaheen said.