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Tuberville, Britt urge reversal on new proposal they say would be ‘disastrous’ for Alabama catfish industry

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Following a recent decision from the U.S. Department of Commerce to significantly reduce tariffs on imported fish products from Vietnam, U.S. Sens. Tommy Tuberville and Katie Britt signed a letter warning of the potential repercussions for Alabama’s catfish industry.

The Commerce Department has a number of protectionist tariffs placed on foreign goods that are sold far below market value, a practice known as an antidumping duty order, which is designed to prevent low-cost foreign goods from undercutting domestic production.

In the case of Vietnam, Commerce has designated the country as a non-market economy for several decades due to much of its industry being state run, leading to the placement of higher tariffs on its imported goods, including fish products, which had sat at $2.39 a kilogram.

For Vietnamese companies that have demonstrated a level of independence from the government, however, Commerce has significantly reduced tariffs on fish products, several to as low as $0.14 a kilogram. In a recent preliminary decision, Commerce moved to lower tariffs of all fish fillet products from Vietnam to $0.14 a kilogram, something Tuberville, Britt, and six other U.S. senators urged Joe Biden’s administration to reverse.

“Alabama is the number two state in American catfish production, raising one-third of the world’s catfish,” Tuberville said Thursday in a statement. “As a former catfish restaurant owner, I know firsthand how critical catfish are to our economy. It is important that we put our American catfish farmers first.”

Alabama is ranked only behind Mississippi in catfish production, with the Yellowhammer state being home to 66 catfish farms, which employ more than 2,400 Alabamians and generate $92 million a year in economic value, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Chris Barnettee, COO of Harvest Select, a catfish farm in Uniontown, said that existing imports from Vietnam of products like swai fish have already harmed domestic fish production, with imported fish fillets outperforming American-made fish fillet products by a ratio of five-to-one as of 2016.

As to Commerce’s recent preliminary decision to further reduce tariffs on fish fillets from Vietnam, Barnettee warned strongly against it.

“Lowering the tariff on an already cheap product will incentivize even more dumping of fillets onto the U.S. market, driving down the price of U.S. farm-raised catfish,” he said in a statement. 

“U.S. farmers and processors are held to the highest standard in the world to deliver the best product possible to the American consumer, which limits the domestic industry’s ability to lower prices in response. The dumping, even with the current tariff, has resulted in a near 50 percent drop in the U.S. industry, and the largescale lowering of the tariff could quickly threaten the independent farmers who have, so far, been able to remain.”

Alabama, along with Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, accounted for 96% of all catfish sales in the United States, with combined sales of $422 million in 2021, a 5% increase over the previous year. Like Harvest Select, the majority of Alabama catfish farmers exist in the state’s Black Belt.

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