Vietnam weighs threatening WTO action over catfish

Vietnam is weighing whether to send a harsh letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and farm bill conferees threatening a World Trade Organization case over a catfish inspection program.

“If, despite the House of Representatives vote to repeal the USDA program this summer, the United States insists on putting the program into place, our Government will have no choice but to consider available remedies,” a draft letter by 

Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Trade Minister Vu Huy Hoang states.

The letter also says the catfish program could affect ongoing TransPacific Trade talks with the U.S.

“The promise of deepened commercial relations, we believe, has been and will continue to be a major incentive for both the United States and Vietnam to support the Trans- Pacific Partnership,” the letter states. 

“The USDA program threatens to reverse this progress and falls short of the spirit of the newly formed Vietnam - U.S. Comprehensive Partnership announced by our two Presidents in July. Our Government is unwilling to sit by as this program is implemented, and thereby lose access to the United States market, when the program so clearly violates America’s WTO obligations and when the product in question makes such an important contribution to Vietnam’s rural economy,” the ministers add. 

A source at the Vietnamese Embassy said that the letter had not been sent yet and “may not be sent.”

The draft was originally sent to reporters and hailed by a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, the nation's largest seafood trade association and an opponent of the catfish inspection program. 

The U.S. Agriculture Department catfish program is supported by domestic catfish growers and Southern members of Congress. They argue that a separate inspection program is needed because the Food and Drug Administration cannot handle the inspections. 

The House voted to end the separate USDA program but the Senate did not consider an amendment to do so this year.  

Vietnam argues the separate program is just being set up as a barrier to discourage imports of Vietnamese catfish. 

 joint_ministers_letter_to_hon_john_kerry.pdf