By John E. Carey
March 2, 2007
After normalization of bilateral relations between Vietnam and the United States in 1995, an American technical mission visited Vietnam to look for opportunities to promote trade and investment.
The delegation identified catfish as an ideal commodity to harvest from the Mekong delta, saying that strong fresh water flows would improve the quality of the catch over fish raised in stagnant ponds.
Once Vietnam got good at catfish farming and exports to the United States soared, the United States argued that catfish raised in flowing waters posed hygiene problems and Congress even passed a law declaring that there is no catfish in Vietnam.
Even so, the Commerce Department slapped an import duty onto the non-existing catfish from Vietnam.By 2003, the situation was widely being called the “Catfish War.”
And Vietnam was losing.
The U.S. worked to stop imported catfish from Vietnam from reaching the American dinner table.
Many southern U.S. states like Louisiana make a lot of money raising catfish!
“It’s totally unfair and does not reflect the objective fact,” said Phan Thuy Thanh, spokeswoman for Vietnam’s foreign minister. “The application of unfair protective barriers to Vietnam’s tra and basa catfish exports to the US over the protest of public opinion – including American opinion – shows the increasing tendency to protect domestic production in the United States.”
By May 2006, the Department of Commerce ruled that the penal tax on giant tra and basa catfish exporter, Vinh Hoan Company, would be cut sharply to 6.81 percent from an earlier 36.84 percent.
But for another company, Cataco, it had increased the tax to a whopping 80.88 percent from 45.81 percent but had offered no explanations.
Ngo Phuoc Hau, chairman of the Mekong Fresh Fish Committee, said local exporters ignored the DOC’s actions since their products were in demand in the EU, Middles East, Russia, and Asia.
Admittedly, it was the US anti-dumping action which forced the Vietnamese businesses to explore other markets and diversify into exporting fresh fillet products and value-added products which fetch higher profits.
Catfish orders worth more than US$100 million poured in from the EU and other markets at the end of last year, a rise of 75 percent year-on-year. But here is the tricky and funny part. Some genius thought it would be a good idea to have a taste competition and let catfish eaters tell us who has the best catfish: America or Vietnam.
The Vietnamese won!
Later a Vietnamese told me: “We cheat on that a little.”
The pond catfish in Vietnam have a very poor diet, feeding on the bottom where there is lots of, lets say, filth. The Vietnamese raised the fish in this system until two months from harvest. This saved a lot of money.
So every pond farmer was allowed to submit ideas on how to improve the taste of the catfish and dozens of ideas were tried.
Here’s the winner: with two months to go before harvesting, they scooped the fish out of a smelly pond and put them in the cleanest water they had with the most nutritious diet. This “washed” the catfish, my friend said. Only two months of the process was expensive and after that last two months the fish tasted great!
My Vietnamese sister in law just reminded me that all the “protein” going into those catfish for the first several months is from Human Waste. I know that but didn’t know if Americans were ready for the truth (“You can’t handle the truth….”)
In the Middle East they use human waste to fertilize veggies like lettuce. The U.S. Navy buys a lot of it. We wash it with Clorox, then water! If you don’t you get Diarrhea that can drain you of all your fluids and you die!