VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam may sue the US Department of Agricultural Food Safety Inspection Service over its new regulations, which will make it extremely difficult for tra fish farmers to qualify their exports for the US market.



Le Tri Dung, vice head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA)’ Department for American Affairs, told VIR that Vietnam might ‘take the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to court at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Dossiers will be collected for this lawsuit, and the Vietnamese side has approached some of the world’s leading lawyers with regard to this lawsuit.’

Vo Hung Dung, general secretary of the Vietnam Pangasius Association, told VIR that the association was consulting with several ministries on the matter, including MoFA, the ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), and Industry and Trade.

“The MARD will establish a task force to work on this issue. We will need specialized lawyers who can help us understand how [the USDA] has violated WTO commitments,” Dung said.

Late last month, the US Department of Agricultural Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) released their final ruling that establishes an inspection service for fish under the classification order Siluriformes, which includes catfish, basa, tra or swai. This will take effect in March 2016.

For all domestic and imported operations there will be a transitional period of 18 months from the effective date, after which any facility/country products not part of the USDA FSIS inspection programme will not be allowed to be sold in or imported into the US.

Before the effective date, countries currently exporting to the US and wishing to continue to do so must provide a list of the establishments exporting these fish as well as written documentation of their regulatory authority and compliance with US Food and Drug Administration requirements.

During the transitional period, the USDA FSIS will conduct inspections during all hours of operation at domestic facilities that slaughter and process these fish. It will also re-inspect and conduct species residue sampling on imported fish. This will be done randomly and at least quarterly, and will be performed at the importing establishment.

Also during this transition period, countries wishing to continue to export these fish to the US beyond the transition period must apply and provide documentation of equivalency to the USDA FSIS programme.

The application process, full equivalency evaluation and on-site audit must be completed before the 18-month period has ended.

At the end of the transitional period, the USDA FSIS will re-inspect and conduct species and residue tests on all incoming shipments into the US.

“The USDA FSIS’ move will heavily affect several hundreds of thousands of tra farmer households in Vietnam and cause Vietnamese exporters to lose the US tra fish market, which occupies 20% of Vietnamese tra fish export value,” Le Tri Dung said.

“These conditions are difficult to meet, and costly to Vietnam, because the 18-month deadline is too short. On average, it will take five or seven years for Vietnam to meet the conditions on tra fish raising and processing,” he said.

US Senators John McCain and Kelly Ayotte have introduced a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act that would nullify the USDA’s move.

“We are proud to continue the fight to repeal the USDA catfish inspection office, which is an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars and a classic example of anti-free market protectionism,” the two senators said in a press release.

To cope with the USDA’s move, MARD will combine with relevant agencies to send a list of firms exporting tra fish products to the US, and information about Vietnam’s tra fish production and processing.

Currently the US is Vietnam’s biggest tra fish importer. US importers spent US$261 million importing tra fish products from Vietnam in the first ten months of this year.

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