Statement by Wally Stevens, ASDA President
April 1, 2004
Good Afternoon. Thank you all for attending today.
My name is Wally Stevens. In addition to serving as President and Chief Operating Officer of Slade Gorton & Company, a 75 year-old seafood importing and marketing company headquartered in Boston , I am President of the American Seafood Distributors Association, or “ASDA”.
ASDA has been around for over 30 years and was formed to address the increasing trend in our industry to use trade protections as the “default drive” for domestic seafood industries in trouble. We saw it in salmon, we saw it in crab, we saw it in crawfish and catfish, and now, we are seeing protectionism as a threat to shrimp— America 's favorite seafood. ASDA's mission from the start was to ensure that shrimp could be traded and sold without protectionist measures such as tariffs or quotas that stifle enterprise and harm American consumers.
I am a 35-year veteran of this industry, including time spent working in the shrimp business in Brownsville , Texas . I stand before you today to say that the seafood industry has never faced a more destructive issue as the one before us—and that is, the potential imposition of 90 to 200 percent tariffs on nearly 75 percent of the US shrimp supply.
Our message is a very serious one: Protectionist actions against three-quarters of our nation's supply of shrimp will have dire consequences to American businesses, American workers, and—perhaps most importantly—American consumers who benefit from a nutritious and delicious seafood item.
" We are here today to tell you that the domino effect of tariffs on 2.4 billion dollars worth of high value seafood will be felt in every region of our country by businesses ranging from large multi-national corporations to small mom & pop companies.
" Tariffs will have a devastating impact not only on those businesses that import, distribute, process, and deliver shrimp to the consumer, but also on those in support services to the shrimp supply chain—such as food logistics companies, customs brokers, cold storage warehouse operators, freight forwarders, and trucking companies such as Service Transport Inc., headquartered in Federalsburg, Maryland. Joining us today is that company's president, Duane Hilghman. His 200-plus employees believe their jobs are important, too.
" Already the threat of tariffs has unsettled the marketplace and postponed expansion plans for at least one cold storage company.
" Tariffs will harm thousands of American workers and will America 's favorite seafood a luxury item that only the rich can afford.
Those of us in the seafood business know that shrimp did not get to be the top-selling seafood for two years running because it was a high-priced commodity. Shrimp has always been an American favorite, and it has never had a demand problem. The real issue is this: How are we as a nation going to feed our growing population—with traditional hunting methods or with the benefits of technology that has spawned today's aquaculture revolution?
Until the advent of aquaculture technology, supply has been the problem. Supplies of wild shrimp in the Gulf and South Atlantic are finite: No way can domestic shrimp harvesters even begin to satisfy America 's growing appetite for shrimp. Traditional shrimp fishing has always been a marginally profitable business.
According to a study conducted at Texas A&M, which examined the years from 1986 through 1997, it costs the average shrimp trawler 98 cents to generate each dollar of revenue. Are imports to blame for this?
In contrast, technology advances have made it possible for shrimp to be grown in some 30 countries around the world. Technological advances in shrimp production have resulted in the efficiencies we see in modern agribusiness: better yields, economies of scale, and efficiencies in all aspects of the growing cycle that have resulted in a highly competitive global industry. Can we really say that the use of technology to produce food more efficiently equates to unfair competition? To dumping?
There are ways for traditional harvesters to compete and succeed, as we have seen with other segments of the seafood industry. Our own domestic shrimp fishing industry, in fact, sought the help of the federal government (National Marine Fisheries Service) in 2002 to explore ways for it to become more competitive and to solve a host of problems that have little to do with imports and everything to do with the way the wild harvest is managed.
We find it astounding and appalling that this study, which we know has been completed and peer-reviewed, has NOT been released to date and will probably continue to be held hostage. Why? A few chapters of this study were inadvertently released over the Internet, suggest that the study's authors outlined the extent to which the domestic industry's woes have little to do with imports and everything to do with the way the fishery is currently managed.
We suspect that the Shrimp Plan probably contains some of these better solutions; unfortunately, that plan is being held hostage by political pressure from Petitioners—the very people who asked for it.
For nearly two years, ASDA has called for leadership from our elected and appointed officials in Washington , including a call to our leaders to release the shrimp plan so that all facts can be brought to light in the investigation. Today, we are calling for transparency in a process that now appears to be tainted by back-room politics and special interests. We would like some answers to questions that may have a significant bearing on the outcome of this investigation:
Why hasn't NMFS released the Shrimp Plan and why the wait?
How did a country like Mexico get taken out of the case, when just one year ago, it was named as a likely Respondent country? Rumor has it that a $1.3 million contribution to the Southern Shrimp Alliance, who are the Petitioners in this case, turned an “enemy” into a “friend”—some time in 2003 before the Petition was filed.
Finally, how does it make sense to harm consumers and businesses in “the other domestic industry” to protect a small and uncompetitive industry?
We want answers and we want transparency. Toward this end, we are pleased to announce today that ASDA has entered into a new alliance with the Consuming Industries Trade Action Coalition—or “CITAC”—to deliver a common message and make our voices heard.
We are grateful to our new partners for bringing this message to you today and we thank you for being here to listen.
For more information, please visit www.freetradeinseafood.org