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Vietnam to benefit as US Senate passes plan to scrap catfish inspection program

Friday, May 27, 2016, 17:15 GMT+7

The U.S. Senate has approved a resolution to scrap a new catfish inspection program that many countries, including Vietnam, have criticized as being disappointing and unnecessary, after a vote late Wednesday.

The bill was approved in a 55 to 43 vote and must now be sent to the House of Representatives for approval before President Barack Obama signs on.

The controversial set of regulations was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in December 2015 and requires the on-site inspection of farms and processing plants for both domestic and foreign producers to ensure they meet quality standards.

The rule, which took effect on March 1, 2016, includes an 18-month transition period to allow foreign supplies, mostly from Vietnam, to ensure their operations are in compliance with the USDA's requirements.

Throughout the transition period, foreign suppliers wishing to export catfish to the U.S. are subject to quarterly inspections and residue sampling by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Supporters of such inspections said the new rule is a necessary precaution against potentially tainted imports from Asia, as the USDA has found illegal drug residue in some shipments, according to AP.

Senator Thad Cochran from the catfish-producing state of Mississippi, and one of the lawmakers championing the inspection program, asserted at Wednesday’s Senate voting session that the new rule “is working as intended to protect consumers.”

In the meantime, Senator John McCain said the regulation is wasteful and merely intends to build another hurdle for catfish imports from Vietnam and other nations, a view shared by many other critics, according to AP.

The Senate vote of approval came just hours after President Obamaended his three-day visit to Vietnam, a main exporter of catfish to the U.S.

Vietnam has previously objected to the new inspection rule, saying it will seriously hurt the country’s seafood exports.

The Vietnamese catfish industry has always followed market mechanisms, food hygiene standards, and safety regulations for their shipments to the U.S. market, where seafood is among Vietnam’s major money makers, Le Hai Binh, spokesman of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in December 2015.

The new rule is thus unnecessary and will become a non-tariff barrier, seriously affecting Vietnam’s catfish exports, the lives of Vietnamese farmers, and the interests of U.S. consumers, Binh underlined.

Many Vietnamese producers and trade negotiators had expressed concerns that catfish imports into the U.S. would be effectively banned until producers could meet the new USDA requirements, causing major disruptions to a significant export sector, according to Reuters.

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