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article imageShrimp imports are one reason trade deal shouldn't be approved

By Karen Graham     Jun 18, 2015 in Business
The U.S. shrimp industry is voicing concerns about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, saying if it were to be passed, it could weaken the ability of regulators to reject unsafe seafood imports.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, opened tariff-free trade between Mexico, Canada and the United States, there were and still are many aspects of the agreement that are still being argued. NAFTA was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.
Now, we have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, a trade deal between the U.S. and eleven Pacific-rim nations that has been negotiated under a cloak of secrecy. The purpose of the agreement would be to ease trade restrictions between the U.S. and the 11 countries signing the trade deal. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of these nations represent almost $28 trillion, or 40 percent of the world's GDP.
A relaxing of trade restrictions with southeast Asian countries is very concerning to the U.S. seafood industry, and to the shrimp industry in particular. The concern is very real, owing to the rise in the number of shrimp imports from that region testing positive for banned antibiotics.
Additionally, David Veal, executive director of Wild American Shrimp says the new trade deal would open the door to even more shrimp farmed with trade-illegal subsidies, giving an unfair market advantage to those growers.
“We recognize that international trade is essential for this country,” Veal said. “What we’re concerned about is that exporting countries to the U.S. follow the same set of production rules, processing rules, and export rules that American producers follow.” And following our protocols is the major problem, especially when it comes to the safety of the products being imported into the U.S.
Over 90 percent of shrimp consumed in U.S. are imported from overseas
In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected only 3.7 percent of shrimp imports and tested only 0.7 percent. While the regulations pertaining to the imports of shrimp are on the books, Veal says he isn't convinced the FDA has the power to enforce the rules because of their limited capacity for inspections at the border.
Shrimp producers in countries outside the U.S. do not follow the same rules and regulations that domestic growers have to follow. In April of 2015, Digital Journal reported on the findings in a new study released by Consumer Reports (CR) that raised some serious health concerns about imported farm-raised shrimp.
The Consumer Reports study revealed that 11 out of 342 imported shrimp samples tested positive for antibiotics, while 16 percent of cooked, ready-to-eat samples tested positive for at least one foodborne pathogen, such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Vibrio. “These trade rules could significantly weaken food safety standards,” Veal said.
Not everyone agrees with U.S. shrimp growers
“The suggestion by anti-trade voices that imported shrimp poses a food safety risk is part of a protectionist-driven, fake food safety scare,” said Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications for the National Fisheries Institute. Gibbons quotes the CDC as reporting that imported seafood accounts for 0.12 percent of yearly illnesses in the U.S.
Gibbons also added that all seafood imports are subject to the FDA’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program. And while this may be true, what kind of safety is provided when less than four percent of seafood imports are inspected?
But what Gibbons fails to mention is "Every year, approximately 30 cases of poisoning by marine toxins are reported in the United States. Because healthcare providers are not required to report these illnesses and because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of poisonings may be much greater," according to the CDC.
But Veal says it is not just the U.S. shrimp industry that is concerned over our shrimp imports. “I think you’ll find a lot of American industry shares our sentiments, especially other areas of the food industry,” Veal said. “We recognize the need for trade, but we don’t want to give the rest of the world carte blanche permission to do whatever they want to do to the food they send here.”
More about TPP, shrimp imports, pacific rim nations, banned antibiotics, unfair maeket advantage