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WASHINGTON, DC – News that Vietnam has sought World Trade Organization (WTO) consultation with the United States over the United States Department of Agriculture’s catfish program should come as little surprise to those familiar with the decade-old history of this duplicative and wasteful program.

The program is now poised to negatively impact significant U.S. agriculture exports to Vietnam. Cotton, wheat and other grains, pork, soybeans, beef, poultry, eggs and fruit, may end up in the cross hairs of retaliatory tariffs. Farmers from Texas to Oregon and California to Georgia, who export tens of millions of dollars’ worth of their harvest to Vietnam annually, could become collateral damage in a campaign waged by catfish lobbyists to regulate their seafood competition out of the market.

In 2011 the Wall Street Journal prophetically editorialized about this program and potential WTO actions, writing that U.S agriculture had “reason to be nervous.”

This case draws parallels to the country-of-origin (COOL) WTO litigation brought by Canada and Mexico against the United States.  The WTO, in that suit, ruled that meat-labeling requirements violated international agreements and were in fact an unlawful trade barrier. Congress reacted by repealing those regulations, thus protecting U.S. farmers and ranchers from unnecessary tariff retaliation and the inevitable loss of access to those two markets that would have followed. 

Tens of thousands of American jobs, from dockworkers to fish processors to wait staff at local restaurants depend on imported catfish for their paychecks. Many of those workers are part of small businesses hindered by unnecessary and duplicative over-regulation.

 Also unaddressed is the fact that the Government Accountability Office has targeted this program for removal 10 separate times, making it one of the most wasteful and duplicative programs Washington has ever spawned. 

The National Fisheries Institute is watching this case with great interest, in hopes that the fundamentally flawed USDA program, that wastes tax dollars and costs jobs, does not claim U.S. agriculture exports as its latest casualty.

John Connelly
President, National Fisheries Institute

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