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Agricultural official applauds US support for Vietnamese fish   2009-07-19 - VietNamNet/Thanh Nien

Vietnam has applauded eight US senators for blocking a bid by the US catfish industry and its allies on Capitol Hill to impose new inspections on Vietnamese fish imports. 

Luong Le Phuong, Vietnam’s deputy minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said Vietnamese businesses and farmers appreciated the senators who understood them and their hard lives in the country.

Phuong told Thanh Nien Daily Friday that the senators clearly understood the impact the inspections would have had on the Vietnamese fish market and two-way trade ties in general.

He said some US senators had firsthand experience visiting fish farms in the Mekong Delta.

On Wednesday, the eight prominent Democratic senators including Dick Durbin of Illinois and John Kerry of Massachusetts warned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that he could spark a trade war if the tra and basa fish, or pangasius fish, were included in a new inspection regime that was pushed in the Farm Bill through Congress last year at the urging of US producers.

They protected a trusted source of seafood for US consumers as the US House of Representatives did when they opposed the plan, said Phuong.

He said the Vietnamese fish, which is exported to 127 worldwide markets, had been proven as safe seafood for consumers.

Other senate signers included Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana and Ted Kennedy, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. One Republican signed, Sen. Mike Enzi, RWyo.

The farm bill singled out catfish as the only seafood to be regulated by the Agriculture Department, which traditionally oversees only beef, pork and poultry products.

Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Processors said the new inspection system aimed to restrict foreign competition by regulating more requirements from fish imports including Vietnamese pangasius, one of US catfish’s toughest competitors.

The Vietnamese fish have faced a US antidumping tax since 2001 and the US government re-imposed the tax after the five year punitive measure expired.

“Such action may prompt retaliatory measures against US exports” of other products, the senators wrote in a letter to US Department of Agriculture, according to The Associated Press.

The senators said it wasn't their intent to include the Vietnamese fish in the new system when it was passed in last year's massive farm bill. Doing so, they wrote, would serve as a “de facto ban on exports from key trading partners.”

The senators worried that approval of the plan would have prompted Vietnam to impose stricter inspections or even close the market on imports from the US, including beef.

Vietnam is one of US beef’s most highly-potential Asian export markets.

The ministry was planning sanitary measures for the US beef imports, according to government sources.

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