Vietnam considers taking US to court over fish tariff hikes

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Vietnamese seafood authorities and producers have threatened to take the US Department of Commerce to court after it announced an exponential hike in anti-dumping duties on Vietnamese pangasius fish products.

The new duties were announced on March 14, as the department replaced Bangladesh with Indonesia as the third country to calculate costs for Vietnamese frozen tra and basa fillet.

Vinh Hoan Corporation in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap, the largest exporter of the fresh water fish to the US in terms of revenue, is now taxed at US$0.19 per kilogram. It used to be exempted from the duty.

Another 16 exporters will have to pay $0.77-1.34 per kilogram.

Anvifish in the delta's An Giang Province, slapped with the highest rate last year, had paid just $0.02 per kilogram.

The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers said in a statement that the decision is "unreasonable" and causes trouble for different parties in both Vietnam and the US.

It pledged to take necessary legal steps to make the US change its decision under US and international laws.

"The decision not only causes difficulties to Vietnamese farmers and businesses, but also affects US consumers since they will have to pay more for a piece of tra fish," Duong Ngoc Minh, vice chairman of the association, said.

"Indonesia does not have a big fisheries breeding and processing [industry] like Vietnam," he added.

The association said the US department is contradicting itself since it had earlier said that Indonesia does not have adequate data about the prices of the fish, but is now basing the new duties on pricing research by the Indonesian government, which combines average prices from several regions.

Indonesia imports rather than exports frozen tra fillet, it pointed out.

The previous third country Bangladesh on the other hand produces the same tra fish products as Vietnam and applies the same methods, it said, noting that Vietnamese and Bangladeshi farmers spend and earn relatively the same from the business.

Pham Thanh Tuan, deputy head of the Fisheries Department, also objected to the US using Indonesia as the third country.

Tuan called it "unfair" saying Indonesia is socially and economically different from Vietnam.

As the new duties need five days to take effect, Tuan said the department is discussing with lawyers and the seafood association a lawsuit in the US Federal Commercial Court. Once the case is taken up, the duties cannot be applied until a verdict is handed down.

Tran Thanh Hai, head of the Department of Fisheries in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, said if that fails, Vietnam needs to think about restructuring its exports, shipping products with higher duties to other markets in the place of the US.

Vietnam exported nearly $359 million worth tra fish to the US last year, making the latter its second biggest importer after the EU.

The US accounted for $33.7 million or 17 percent of Vietnam's tra exports in the first two months this year.

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