Point of View

Gulf Coast shrimpers feeding off government handouts

Gulf Coast shrimpers, marinating in the status quo, want to squelch global competition.

January 17, 2013 

Over the past six years, Gulf shrimpers and the people who process those popular, delicate crustaceans have been through a lot. But they are a resilient group and so is their catch. Far from the doomsday predictions some have had for the Gulf, its bounty is back.

But so is an unfortunate business strategy that sees some trying to regulate their competition out of the market rather than simply improving and competing.

Also over the past six years, a small group in that shrimp community has not only publicly decried the challenges the Gulf has faced but quietly split nearly $259 million in federal duties collected from their imported competition. While the government handed out more than a quarter of a billion dollars to these folks, collected directly from companies that export shrimp to this country, they still made the strategic decision not to innovate but to marinate in the status quo while looking for the next regulatory handout.

Today, shrimp processors calling themselves the Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries will petition the International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce to place new business-busting fees on shrimp from seven countries. Once again they’ll claim imports hurt their business. There is little doubt that their efforts are Machiavellian, but they’re not what business in this country was founded on.

Countervailing duties are fees placed on imported shrimp and other products. These duties result from the work of expert lawyers in Washington whose specialty is restricting competition – no matter if the result is higher prices for consumers. Those lawyers will argue that their clients need more assistance from the government, ignoring the nine-figure handout they already squandered. They will argue for regulatory road blocks that would disrupt the market.

And they will do all of this from the comfort of a climate-controlled hearing room far from the docks where the real work is done.

The Department of Commerce estimates that imported seafood affects roughly 454,352 American jobs. Gone are the days of us vs. them. The global market, from T-shirts to seafood, converts cultures, countries and markets that are nowhere near our neighbors into our partners.

Sectors that have failed to recognize this and evolve have done themselves a disservice.

Innovation, hard work and a drive to succeed – not handouts – have propelled my shrimp importing and wholesale business. My company is in a perpetual state of transformation as we change to meet the demands of American consumers and the challenges of a competitive marketplace. Isn’t that what has built the greatest economy in the world?

If we don’t adapt, we don’t survive. Have we really gone from a country where entrepreneurs with a dream and willingness to sacrifice must now compete, not against other seafood companies, but against well-dressed lawyers bent on suppressing trade rather than encouraging it? Such tactics mock those who are willing to work hard because they have faith that only in America can you make it on the virtue of competition, not regulation.

Travis Larkin of Raleigh is the president of Seafood Exchange, a seafood importing and wholesale company that provides 14 million seafood meals to American families annually.

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