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WASHINGTON - Stiff tariffs imposed on imported shrimp by the Bush administration this week may lead to higher prices on imported product, but it may also open up some opportunities at retail for alternative domestic sources, industry observers have told Progressive Grocer.
The Bush adminmistration imposed tariffs on imported shrimp from China and Vietnam, and is considering tariffs on shrimp from Brazil, Ecuador, India, and Thailand. The new duties will take effect at the end of this week and will likely lead to higher consumer prices in the long term, observers said.
The duties, ranging from 7.6 percent to 112 percent, were imposed to help save the U.S. shrimp industry, which is concentrated along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The domestic industry has been hit hard by foreign-sourced shrimp, which now accounts for 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States and which the government said has been sold at prices so low it amounts to dumping.
"I do believe the tariffs will create higher prices on the imports and may create some resistance in the consumer's mind, but if the retailers and restaurants were smart, they'd find a way to market both," Michael Bavota, president of Michael Bavota, Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based food broker, told Progressive Grocer. Bavota is a contributor to the publication.
Bavota says low import prices have pushed American suppliers out of business. "Fair trade is fair trade, and that's what America is all about. But I think if we continue to push our domestic manufacturers and processors out of this country, it's going to be regrettable down the road. Other countries don't allow that," he said.
While not taking a stand on the import duties issue, the Seafood Choices Alliance, a Washington-based association that promotes sustainable seafood, says overseas shrimp farms contribute to a host of environmental problems.
"Most of the environmental groups generally rate any U.S. shrimp -- whether farm-raised or wild -- as a better choice than what is being imported," Joey Brookhart, a Seafood Choices Alliance spokeswoman, told Progressive Grocer. "There is a farm that we've been paying close attention to in Florida, called Ocean Boy Farms. They are just this year able to start producing their first harvest of organic shrimp. Based on the information we have and the conversations we've had, they appear to be a better choice when it comes to farmed," she said.