OUR VIEW: Congressional help needed for shrimpers

It’s an old saw.

To make a certain thing happen is such a difficult task as to require an “act of Congress,” implying a monumental effort is at hand.

Cliché as the reference may be, it is spot-on from several perspectives.

Protection of U.S. industries from imports that have unfair advantages – in particular protection for fishermen who harvest wild products and those who process and sell them – is a task that difficult.

Current laws and agreements regarding trade have created a legal minefield for domestic industries seeking protection. Local seafood processors who pay living wages to workers, whether guests from other nations or lifelong area residents, have tremendous difficulty competing against nations where slave labor, child labor and other unsavory practices are routine.

The resulting economic grief rolls downstream, from the processors and docks to the men and women who risk the fickle nature of the sea to bring home the shrimp and other seafood of which we are so proud.

When protection is sought – as it was by fishermen and processors a decade ago – the legal and lobbying work required to obtain it is gargantuan. The cost runs into millions upon millions, put up by an industry already struggling.

Through hard work by the Louisiana Shrimp Association, the Southern Shrimp Alliance and the American Shrimp Processors association, at various points in that struggle, sanctions have been levied against countries that have competed unfairly.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Nations who were penalized – as predicted then – have found ways to work around the tariffs that were established on shrimp. China funnels its shrimp through Malaysia, which is not subject to tariffs. Other means to defeat the tariff structure have been alleged as well.

Only an act of Congress will come close to untangling the mess, which, over years of bowing to special interest groups with lots of lobbyists, Congress itself created.

A Louisiana congressman, Rep. Charles Boustany R-La., has authored a provision for a trade law called the PROTECT Act. It is included in H.R. 1907, the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which recently passed through the House Ways & Means Committee. It directly attacks circumvention schemes, and contains provisions that will help U.S. Customs and Border Protection better serve domestic industries and enforce regulations that the U.S. Department of Commerce has already adopted.

The Senate has its own version of the enforcement act. But it lacks key provisions seen in the legislation authored by Boustany. The House and Senate will soon hammer out the differences.

It is our hope that the Boustany additions will be incorporated into the final version of the law and that it is able to pass. Included are provisions which:

• Create a unit within CBP dedicated to preventing and investigating tariff evasion.

• Create CBP point-of-contact for businesses to direct investigations.

• Eliminate required notification of targets of such investigations.

• Creates new avenues of communication between CBP, the Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission, to lubricate the investigation process.

• Require training of CBP officers to help them better enforce tariffs and trade laws.

Developing better ways of protecting consumers from antibiotics in imported shrimp is a valid role government can play, but should not be substituted for proactive marketing efforts. We urge Louisiana’s two senators to work with their colleagues to include elements of the PROTECT Act recommended by Boustany. We ask all members of Louisiana’s House to work with their colleagues in Washington toward that end as well.

Boustany’s amendments strike a proper balance.

We strongly urge their inclusion in the final product, and at the same time wish our fishermen and processors well as they weather their current economic storm. Indeed, it will take an act of Congress.