Following a preliminary decision by the US Commerce Department that catfish exporters in Vietnam were dumping their products at unfairly low prices in the US, Vietnam’s largest fishery has suspended exports to the US.

The Commerce Department had threatened to impose anti-dumping duties that could be as high as 64%. In response, the An Giang Fishery Import Export Co (Agifish) has stopped shipping catfish fillet to the US and switched to other countries in Asia and Europe and to Australia.

Agifish and three other companies together control a good 60% of Vietnam’s fish exports, and the US is their largest single market. In 2002, Vietnam sold more than US$55m worth of frozen fish – mostly catfish – to the US, up dramatically from just $13.4 million in 1999.

To allay local concern among farmers worried that the US ruling could threaten their livelihood, Agifish has continued buying from farmers at an agreed price. Vietnam fisheries explain they are able to sell catfish more cheaply than their US counterparts (who instigated the trade action) because of low labour costs and efficient cultivation practices.

The Commerce Department will issue a final ruling in the early summer.