Asian Exports of Shrimp to the United States Are Anything but Pint-Sized

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by Sarah Wang
Shrimp head down the assembly line to be cleaned and prepared for export in Vietnam. Image: Flickr user ILO in Asia and the Pacific.

Over three-fourths of seafood consumed in the United States is imported from around the world. Shrimp is at the top of the list for fresh or frozen imports, accounting for roughly 28% of all imports by weight. In 2014, the United States imported 569,000 metric tons of shrimp, up almost 12% from 2013 and with a value of $6.7 billion. Already in 2015, the amount of shrimp imported in just the month of January was up 8.5% from the same month in 2014.

Four of the top five shrimp exporters to the United States are in Asia. In January 2015, Indonesia dominated the United States’ shrimp market, representing 22.7% of the total market with frozen peeled shrimp exports valued at $93.5 million. Due to the success of its exports, Indonesia is set to maintain a positive trend for 2015; a good sign for the Indonesian government whose goal is to increase overall exports by 300% by the year 2019.

India was the largest shrimp supplier to the United States in 2014 and is not far behind Indonesia early in 2015, representing 22.2% of the total market share in the United States in January. Despite competition from Indonesia and Ecuador (currently the third largest source of US imports), India remains well placed to continue being a top supplier of shrimp to the United States, particularly for frozen, unpeeled shrimp and prawns. Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia (currently ranked fourth, fifth, and eighth respectively) are the other Asian exporters of shrimp that have a strong market presence in the US.

There are, however, concerns surrounding this dependence on imports of shrimp from Asia, particularly from US domestic shrimp producers. In December 2003, the Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents members of the US domestic shrimp industry in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, filed a petition to the World Trade Organization against shrimp imports from China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam (Brazil and Ecuador were also implicated). Two years later, in February 2005, an antidumping duty was filed after it was determined that the extremely low price of imports of Asian shrimp was materially injuring the US shrimp industry. The US Commerce Department and International Trade Commission conducted a “sunset” review of the dumping duty in 2011 and determined that if it was revoked the dumping would likely occur again, to the detriment of US shrimp producers. As such, antidumping duties remain on India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Brazil to ensure that shrimp pricing stays at a level that keeps the US industry viable. While allegations of the use of slave labor in Thailand’s shrimp industry, as well as countervailing subsidies enacted by China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, all serve to make this an industry of enormous complexity, it is also clear that the rate of US shrimp consumption is far outpacing the domestic industry’s ability to meet the demand. 

Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.