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Bumble Bee Wants USA Tuna Duties Maintained United States, June 10, 13

With talks looming for a proposed transatlantic free trade agreement, seafood giant Bumble Bee Foods LLC warned U.S. trade negotiators Wednesday that removing import duties on canned tuna would destroy the domestic tuna industry.
In a submission to the U.S. International Trade Commission — which is studying the impact of removing the trade barriers under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — Bumble Bee said tariffs are necessary to protect American canners against cheap tuna from the European Union's large tuna processing industry.
Just Italy and Spain produce more than 10 percent of the world’s canned tuna, according to Bumble Bee.
“Eliminating duties on canned tuna will result in the loss of thousands of American jobs in tuna processing plants, will fail to provide any considerable benefits to U.S. consumers, and can potentially introduce food safety risks to a staple of the American diet,” the company said.
The intended message wasn’t exactly that foreign imports would drive American tuna canners out of business, but rather that it would force them to pack up and leave. The company explicitly threatened that “the entire tuna processing industry in the U.S. will be forced to move offshore” if duties are removed.
The current tariff rates for tuna entering the U.S. are 35 percent for tuna in oil in airtight containers, 6 percent for tuna in airtight containers not in oil in quota and 12.5 percent for tuna out of quota in airtight containers — rates that average out to 9.5 percent.
Bumble Bee said those rates account for tougher U.S. regulatory standards, like providing a safe working environment, controlling environmental emissions, paying income and employee taxes.
The company acknowledged that its primary request — that tariffs remain exactly the same under a free trade agreement with Europe — “may not be realistic,” and thus made several alternative recommendations.
It said that if U.S. duties are removed, similar tariffs should also be eliminated by the Europeans, and that American rates should be slowly phased out to give the domestic industry time to adjust to the changes, Bumble Bee said.
The company also recommended a compromise: removing tariffs on pouch-packaged tuna, which represent just a small portion of U.S. tuna production, while keeping them on canned tuna. That kind of agreement worked in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act and would work in the TTIP, Bumble Bee said.
The letter on tuna came as part of the ITC’s ongoing probe weighing the probable economic effects of providing duty-free treatment to EU products, as requested by the U.S. Trade Representative in March.
Such studies are standard operating procedure before negotiations for planned free trade agreements like TTIP, which the White House has said it will begin working out with the EU this summer.
The U.S. had some $458 billion in goods and services exports to the EU in 2012, and the two invested about $3.7 trillion in each others’ economies in 2011, according to U.S. trade officials.
The ITC investigation is U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement: Advice on the Probable Economic Effect of Providing Duty-Free Treatment for Imports, investigation numbers TA-131-037 and TA-2104-029, in the U.S. International Trade Commission.