WASHINGTON — They survived hurricanes and oil spills, but Gulf Coast shrimp processors say there’s no way they can battle foreign governments to stay in business.
While Americans gobble up imported shrimp as never before, processors from Florida to Texas say they can’t compete with billions in subsidies that are propping up shrimpers in places such as China and Thailand while driving down the price for American consumers.
“You can buy shrimp cheaper than you can buy bologna right now. ... We just don’t have the kind of money and backbone to stay in business competing against these countries,” said Richard Gollott Sr., a co-owner of Golden Gulf Coast Packing Co. in Biloxi, Miss.
With imports now accounting for more than 90 percent of the U.S. shrimp market, processors say it’s time to fight back: They want the federal government to put new tariffs on imported shrimp, making it more expensive to sell in the United States.
“This is just survival. We’re trying to survive, and that’s what this is all about,” Gollott said.
As two federal agencies prepare to begin considering the tariffs case this week, opponents say it would be misguided for Washington to intervene.
“Instead of seeing our friends in the Gulf industry innovate and try to improve their practices in the marketplace, they’re just trying to regulate the competition out of the business,” said Travis Larkin, the president of Seafood Exchange, a seafood importing company in Raleigh, N.C. “If you look at the big picture of it, it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Processors such as Gollott, part of a group called The Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries, predict that they’ll win. They say that foreign governments in the seven biggest importing countries have engaged in unfair trade by giving more than $13.5 billion in subsidies to their shrimp industries since 2009.