This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) trade negotiators met in secret in Vietnam to hammer out the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While many Wall Street and Big Business issues were reportedly discussed — like extending copyrights and patents and securing overseas corporate investment rights — protections for consumers continue to receive short shrift.
And that is a shame, because Vietnam is the perfect venue to discuss seafood safety and the impact that the global fish trade has on consumers and independent fishing businesses here in the United States. Vietnam is one of the biggest exporters of fish-farmed catfish and shrimp and many of these seafood products are raised with veterinary medicines or chemicals that are unsafe and illegal in the United States. U.S. border inspections have failed to keep pace with the flood of imports and dangerous imports may be slipping past the safety inspectors.
The TPP poses significant risks for both American fishing and fish farming businesses as well. Imports make up the vast majority — more than 90 percent — of the seafood eaten in the United States. In 2012, about one-third of all fish and seafood imports came from TPP countries and shrimp and catfish imports from Vietnam have increased significantly. Oftentimes, these shrimp and catfish are imported at unfair and illegally low prices, undercutting U.S. shrimpers and catfish farmers.
The TPP negotiators could address some of these key issues and ensure that the trade pact includes key protections for consumers and for independent fishing businesses and fish farms in the United States. This week, Representative Walter Jones (NC) spearheaded a letter, with other members of Congress, to USTR Ambassador Froman demanding that negotiators address key concerns on their trip to Vietnam.
The letter notes that “Vietnam’s aquaculture and fisheries industry has been a scofflaw of U. food safety and trade rules for too long, these negotiations provide a key leverage point to ensure that Vietnam’s industry plays by the rules and does not unfairly disadvantage American fishing an aquaculture industries or imperil consumes with dangerous seafood exports.”
USTR needs to put the needs of consumers and independent small fishing and fish farming businesses on an equal footing with the corporate special interests who have set America’s free trade agenda for too long. Representative Jones is leading the charge to make sure that free trade deals don’t drown our consumers and fishing communities in a tidal wave of unsafe imported fish.