Is the USDA Catfish Inspection Program good for diplomatic and trade relations?

Independent food safety experts and government regulators will tell you the USDA Catfish Inspection Program is a solution in search of a problem. The real and transparent goal of the lobbying effort behind the push for this redundant regulation is to erect a trade barrier against imported seafood.  The resulting diplomatic quagmire hurts food safety efforts, hurts trade relations and hurts American agriculture and only helps a select few catfish farmers and processors.

Agriculture groups and companies are well aware of the negative impact on diplomatic and trade relations this program would have.

  • “…this rule would cause the U.S. to implement just the sort of measures that we have objected to when used by our trading partners. It would put U.S. trade officials in the unenviable position of having to defend a measure in an eventual and certain dispute settlement proceeding that is counter to arguments they have made numerous times in challenging similar foreign actions. This will seriously weaken U.S. efforts to prevent such measures from being used to block U.S. exports in the future.”
  •  “The catfish rule could easily be seen by foreign exporting nations as such an unjustifiable trade barrier. The U.S. has and continues to successfully remove non-science-based and other unjustifiable barriers that negatively affect U.S. agricultural exports. Implementing such a rule has the potential to weaken future U.S. efforts if it is perceived as engaging in the same type of activity.”American Soybean Association

Cargill                                                                                  Grocery Manufacturers Association
Hormel Foods                                                                     National Council of Farmer Coops
National Meat Association                                                National Milk Producers Federation
National Oilseed Processors Association                         National Pork Producers Council
National Restaurant Association                                      National Turkey Federation
Retail Industry Leaders Association                                  Smithfield Foods
United States Dairy Export Council                                   United States Grains Council
United States Meat Export Federation                             USA Poultry and Egg Export Council
Western Growers Association                                           United States Meat Export Federation
American Meat Institute                                                    Food and Agriculture Export Alliance
Seaboard Foods
National Restaurant Association
Food Marketing Institute


Agriculture Secretary Vilsack knows the importance of exports and the importance of breaking down trade barriers, while this program erects them.

  • “We are in the most successful period in history for America’s agriculture sector, with agricultural exports this year expected to set yet another record. We will continue our efforts to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, safe and wholesome U.S. food and agricultural products… around the world.”
    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack 01.28.12
  • “Our farmers and ranchers support one in 12 American jobs today, with unlimited potential in the years ahead as we grow and export more. Exports of quality U.S. agricultural products already support more than a million jobs here at home, and USDA will continue working with the President to open new markets for U.S. agriculture in Europe, Asia and around the world.”
    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack 02.15.13

Experts in international policy and trade see the USDA Catfish Inspection Program as nothing short of a disaster for diplomacy.

  •  “Because WTO litigation is intensely fact-specific…we are always reluctant to express definitive opinion about a possible case in a preliminary assessment. This case, however, stands on somewhat different ground… In our view, Vietnam would have a very strong WTO case against the United States.”
    “… there is nothing ‘disguised’ about this protectionism.”
    James Bacchus, former chief judge on the highest international tribunal of world trade (WTO) and former Member of the Congress.
  •  “[The program] may generate a serious trade challenge as a result of possibly being a non-tariff trade barrier.”
    The Mercatus Center

Ambassadors who know the issue and the countries involved leave little doubt that the USDA Catfish Inspection Program is bad for diplomacy and trade.

  •  “Either the United States is a trusted trading partner who adheres to agree upon rules or is a country that engages in linguistic gymnastics to say one thing but do another.”
    Douglas “Pete” Peterson U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, 1997 to 2001
  • “Our actions should reflect our commitments and follow sound science rather than the narrow interests of a small minority.”
    Michael W. Marine U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, 2004 to 2007
  • “…an unfair and unjustified U.S. regulatory measure, targeted at Vietnam’s seafood producers, continues to distract from [Trans Pacific Partnership]…negotiations.”
    Nguyen Quoc Cuong Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States 2013
  • “I believe that the implementation of the USDA catfish inspection program will inevitably prompt efforts to create similar USDA programs for additional seafood products, with the intent of providing unfair and unlawful protection to domestic producers. Such a trend would impede legitimate trade between the United States and Thailand, harm economic recovery in both nations, and raise food prices for American consumers, all without improving food safety.
    Chaiyong Satjipanon Royal Thai Ambassador to the United States 2012

The Wall Street Journal has weighed in with its opinions about the negative impact of the USDA Catfish Inspection Program on diplomacy and trade multiple times.

  • “[the fight over the program has] raised the prospect that Vietnam could bar American beef in retaliation.”
     –Wall Street Journal Editorial 06.21.12
  • “No wonder this [program] has American exporters worried about retaliation… the Vietnamese could block imports of U.S. beef in response, and producers of soy products also have reason to be nervous.”
    Wall Street Journal Editorial 02.22.11
  • “There’s no reason for America to launch a trade war with Vietnam over fish.”
    Wall Street Journal Editorial 07.14.09
  • “[This program is] a case study in nonsensical regulation.”
    Wall Street Journal Editorial 02.22.11 

While many members of Congress know the USDA Catfish Inspection Program is bad for trade and diplomacy, perhaps hearing it from a former Senator and current Secretary of State makes the point best.


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