Thai shrimp exporters at ease

Thai shrimp exports are unlikely to be affected by recent moves by Gulf of Mexico shrimpers and lawmakers who have urged a US panel to extend duties on imports from countries such as Thailand and China, citing the BP oil spill and hurricane damage as reasons to protect the $2-billion industry.

"Having or not having anti-dumping tariffs does not matter, as we have proven over the past five years that our shrimp exports remain competitive and strong in the world and the US market," said Somsak Paneetatyasai, president of the Thai Shrimp Association.

"More importantly, the rationale behind anti-dumping penalties raised by the US shrimpers has nothing to do with whether we dump our products. US shrimp is now less competitive with Thai products given our sophisticated farming technology and higher productivity."

He said US shrimp is caught mostly at sea, so that country's shrimpers are hit harder when the oil price rises.

The US is the biggest buyer of Thai shrimp products, last year importing about 45% of Thailand's 400,000 tonnes of shrimp exports.

Japan and the EU came in at second and third at 18% and 15%, respectively.

The US has imported an average of 500,000 tonnes of shrimp annually over the past five years.

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, told a hearing of the US International Trade Commission on Tuesday in Washington that Gulf of Mexico shrimp producers had proven their resolve in the face of natural and man-made disasters.

"The 2005 and 2008 hurricanes, the economic recession and most recently the massive Gulf oil spill, have put this industry on the brink of collapse," she said.

"Family small businesses ... are simply no match to large, foreign enterprises dumping significant amounts of underpriced shrimp into the United States."

The US five years ago imposed duties of more than 100% on shrimp from Thailand, Brazil, Vietnam, China and India.

World Trade Organisation rules require the US to review the duties every five years, and the US trade panel will vote next month on whether to continue them.

The tariffs have slowed the surge in imports of shrimp, raised prices that US producers may charge and let shrimpers and processors invest in equipment because of setbacks from storms and the economy, said Elizabeth Drake, a lawyer for the US producers.

As more and more low-priced imports kept coming in, prices kept falling, said Jonathan Appelbaum, the president of Penguin Frozen Foods Inc, a distributor of US shrimp based in Northbrook, Illinois.

"With trade relief, we have enjoyed stability in pricing, and that has once again opened the retail market to domestic products."

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 damaged processing facilities and harmed shrimping grounds, said the American Shrimp Processors Association.

It said the BP spill last year kept shrimp boats from working in wide areas of the Gulf of Mexico and also prompted consumers to shun shrimp.

Thailand accounted for more than a quarter of the more than $4 billion worth of shrimp sold in the US in 2009. Imports account for 90% of the over 450 million kilogrammes of shrimp Americans eat each year.

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