Like it or not, Vietnamese catfish growers and exporters must be prepared to abide by the new inspection rule the U.S. is poised to apply to global suppliers of catfish next year, an industry association has warned.
In late November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a new rule for catfish suppliers, which requires on-site inspections of farms and processing plants for both domestic and foreign producers to ensure they meet the same standards.
The rule is expected to become effective from March 2016, and will be phased in over 18 months, giving foreign suppliers, mostly from Vietnam, time to make changes needed to comply with USDA requirements, according to Reuters.
While Vietnam views the new rule as disappointing and unnecessary, local catfish businesses are advised to “carefully study the U.S. rule” to be ready to adapt to possible changes, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) said on Wednesday.
In the immediate term, Vietnam’s catfish exports to the U.S. will remain normal until the September 2017 deadline, according to VASEP general secretary Truong Dinh Hoe.
Vietnamese exporters are also encouraged to continue expanding their markets to avoid relying too much on one market, Hoe said.
Vietnam’s catfish are now the sixth-most popular seafood in the United States, according to Reuters.
Industry insiders say the 18-month transition period is too short, with Hoe admitting that the new rule will cause difficulty for catfish exporters.
“U.S. consumers and importers will no longer have the right to choose the products they want,” Hoe was quoted by the Vietnam News Agency as saying.
“The USDA regulation goes against World Trade Organization principles.”
By March 2016, Vietnam will have had to provide a list of its catfish exporters, as well as a document saying it will follow the new rule on the U.S. side, according to the VASEP official.
Many Vietnamese seafood exporters have already met such standards including the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council), GlobalGAP (Good Agricultural Practices), the U.S.’s BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) and FarmBill.
The new rule is therefore 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, Le Hai Binh, spokesman for the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on November 30.
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.
The catfish inspection program is also deemed wasteful and redundant by some U.S. lawmakers, who have repeatedly objected to the rule, the British news agency said in a November 26 report.