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Trump hearing two different trade messages from US seafood industry

US shrimp and catfish industries strike protectionist tone in testimony on US trade deficit executive order. NFI urges expanded trade and warns against igniting trade wars.

The Trump administration should focus on expanding US seafood exports and be careful of taking unjustified action against foreign seafood producing nations in order to avoid potential trade wars that could hurt US exporters of a wide array of products.

That is the message the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) conveyed to the US International Trade Administration (ITA) in testimony it submitted related to an executive order signed by President Trump March 31 on US trade deficits.

The executive order directs multiple government agencies to identify trading partners with which the United States had a significant trade deficit in 2016, and to assess the impact of the nation’s trade relationship with those countries "on the production capacity and strength of the US manufacturing base and on US employment and wage growth.

The American Shrimp Processor's Association (ASPA) struck a more protectionist tone in its testimony on the executive order, calling for continued trade actions against Asian shrimp producing countries, with which the US shrimp industry has been locked in a trade war for more than a decade.

"ASPA urges this administration to strongly enforce US trade remedy laws and to make fair trade a priority," the group said in its testimony.

The two group's testimony reflect two sides of the seafood trade picture, with NFI supportive of exporters' point of view and the ASPA pushing back against what it sees as unfair competition.

In its testimony, NFI made the case for opening up overseas markets to US seafoods such as shellfish, lobster and more.

"...[T]he Administration should focus on expanding US exports through the negotiation of high-standard agreements that reduce or eliminate high tariffs, strike down unfair regulatory barriers, and make other changes to ensure that American exporters can take advantage of liberalized trade with growing economies around the world."

And it warned against protectionist trade policies, saying: "Taking unjustified action against seafood producing nations could easily cause them to act against US agricultural exports, thus eroding the competitiveness of the domestic seafood supply chain and harming American farmers all at once."

ASPA, which represents the US Gulf of Mexico shrimp industry, wants continued action against foreign shrimp imports, but made little to no mention of opening up foreign markets for US shrimp.

The Catfish Farmers of America provided similar protectionist-themed testimony on the executive order.

"The US government should not be passive when rising job losses and plant closures show that there is a significant and impending collapse of the US. catfish industry. We urge the Department of Commerce and USTR to make full and timely use of its trade policy instruments to defend the US catfish industry against unfair competition and safeguard its competitiveness," the group wrote in its testimony.

According to the executive order, the trading partners with which the United States had a significant trade deficit in goods in 2016 are Canada, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

By the end of June, the Secretary of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative (USTR), is expected to submit to the President its Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits.

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