NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The Bush administration Thursday proposed tariffs on shrimp imports from four of the largest shrimp-producing nations in Asia and South America, accusing them of hurting domestic producers by dumping the shellfish on the U.S. market at artificially low prices.
The proposed tariffs against Brazil, Ecuador, India and Thailand ranged from 4 percent to 68 percent _ far less than what Southern shrimpers and processors had asked for.
Although the ruling is preliminary, it will probably stand. The Commerce Department will make a final decision this fall, and the U.S. International Trade Commission will decide in January if imports have damaged the domestic industry, a finding it has already issued in a preliminary ruling.
The ruling, released in Washington, came three weeks after the Commerce Department proposed tariffs on China and Vietnam. In all, the six countries provide about 75 percent of the shrimp Americans eat. The rulings are significant because imports now make up about 87 percent of shrimp in the United States.
``I hope that the shrimpers who brought this case will feel vindicated,'' said James Jochum, assistant commerce secretary for import administration.
Opponents of tariffs say duties could drive shrimp prices up and do little to boost a domestic industry unable to meet the country's demand for shrimp.
The tariffs proposed Thursday varied according to each country's sales and production costs. Brazilian exporters faced the stiffest duties, at up to 68 percent. The Southern shrimpers had sought duties ranging up to 349 percent for Brazil and between 57 percent and 166 percent for the three other countries.
Southern shrimpers said they were disappointed.
``We commend the Department of Commerce for imposing antidumping duties, but feel that in certain instances the duties underestimate the seriousness of the violations,'' said Eddie Gordon, president of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, made up of eight states.
Opponents said the lower duties showed that dumping charges were exaggerated. All four countries have denied the charges.
``The only thing I can say is that the gap between the allegations and the reality are significant,'' said Warren Connelly, a trade lawyer for Ecuador.
The shrimp alliance has said dumping cut the value of the U.S. harvest by more than half between 2000 and 2002, from $1.25 billion to $560 million.
Exporters and importers deny that and accuse the Bush administration of protectionism. They argue that booming U.S. demand for shrimp and a burgeoning shrimp farming industry are behind the rise in imports _ not dumping.