Hanoi files WTO case against US

Shrimps being processed at a factory in Vietnam. The country lodged a dispute against US anti-dumping measures before the WTO. (AFP)

Vietnam has launched its first dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with a case against US anti-dumping measures on its key exports of shrimp.

The state only joined the global trade arbiter three years ago, and its economy like China's, has benefited strongly from membership in the world trading system and its rules.

The trade dispute with the US not only has symbolic significance, given the two countries' war that ended 35 years ago, but defends a product that brought in some $1.5 billion (Dh5.51bn) in exports last year. It also pits Hanoi against a large number of Vietnamese-American shrimpers who operate off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

No one was available for comment at Vietnam's mission to the WTO, and details of the dispute were not immediately clear. Vietnamese shrimp exporters have complained in the past about the controversial US method of calculating anti-dumping duties known as zeroing, which has been condemned repeatedly by WTO courts and rejected by all other WTO members.

"The WTO has concluded that the US was wrong in applying the zeroing method in precedent cases. I can see high possibility of Vietnam winning the case," Nguyen Huu Dung, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (Vasep), said.

Vietnam will also gain useful experience in international trade litigation from fighting a WTO case, Dung said. According to documents filed by Vietnam with the WTO, the country is seeking consultations with the US, the first formal stage in a dispute.

A spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative's office said they were reviewing Vietnam's request for talks. If the two sides fail to resolve the dispute through bilateral consultations in 60 days, Vietnam can ask the WTO to set up a panel to rule on the case.

Vasep estimates Vietnam exported 190,000 tonnes of shrimp in 2009, up seven per cent in volume and one per cent in value. Besides the US, its main markets are Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents shrimp fishermen and processors in eight US states, won anti-dumping duties on imports from Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam in 2004 after a US Commerce Department investigation found those countries guilty of unfair pricing practices.

That action helped stabilise an industry hit hard by falling prices. But annual US administrative reviews have weakened duties and US shrimpers are now struggling with low prices, the group's executive director, John Williams, said. US duties on Thai shrimp had such little effect that the Southern Shrimp Alliance recently negotiated a deal for the Thai industry to pay US shrimpers at least $100 million to have the duties dropped, he said.

 

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