Floor Statements

  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, this is kind of an interesting situation that we are facing. It is instructive of a lot of things that are happening around here in the Senate and in the country. Even though it is only about catfish--the lowly catfish--it has a lot of implications. There are implications for trade and our relations with Vietnam. It has implications as to how we do business in the Senate. It has a lot of interesting implications, including the rise of protectionism in the United States of America, how a certain special interest with enough lobbying money and enough special interest money and campaign contributions can get most anything done.

   During consideration of the Senate version of the Agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2002, it was late at night and I voiced concern about the managers' decision to clear a package of 35 amendments just before the final passage of the bill. I said: Has anyone seen these amendments? It was late in the evening. There was dead silence in the Senate. It was late in the evening so, unfortunately, I agreed for this so-called managers' amendment to be passed by voice vote, remembering that managers' amendments are technical in nature; they are to clean up paperwork or clerical errors.

   Well, in this package of 35 amendments, 15 were earmarked to members of the Appropriations Committee--several million dollars. I have forgotten exactly how much. And this is a so-called catfish amendment. My good friend from Mississippi will say the issue was discussed before. If it was, why didn't we have a vote on it? Why didn't we have the amendment up and have a vote on it as we do regular amendments? The reason is because the Senator from Massachusetts, the Senator from Texas, I, and many others--and I believe we are going to find that a majority of the Senate--would have rejected such a thing.

   As it turns out, I had good reason to be concerned. Included was an amendment banning the FDA from using any funds to process imports of fish or fish products labeled as catfish, unless the fish have a certain Latin family name. In fact, of the 2,500 species of catfish on Earth, this amendment allows the FDA to process only a certain type raised in North America--specifically, those that grow in six Southern States. The program's effect is to restrict all catfish imports into our country by requiring they be labeled as something other than catfish, an underhanded way for catfish producers to shut out the competition. With a clever trick of Latin phraseology and without even a ceremonial nod to the vast body of trade laws and practices we rigorously observe, this damaging amendment, slipped into the managers' package and ultimately signed into law as part of an appropriations bill--an appropriations bill--literally bans Federal officials from processing any and all catfish imports labeled as they are--catfish.

   It is going to be ludicrous around here and entertaining because we are going to talk about what is and what is not a catfish. Over there, we may see one with an American flag on it, which would be an interesting species. When is a catfish other than a catfish.

   On this chart is a giant catfish with a name I can't pronounce. Here is a yellowtail catfish. I didn't do well in Latin. Here is another one, a basa catfish--yes, the culprit. Here is the channel catfish. They are all catfish. There are 2,500 of them. I don't have pictures of all of them. Now there is only going to be one recognized as a catfish in America, which are those which are raised in America--born and raised in America. These are interesting pictures. We will have a lot of pictures back and forth. I think we will see more pictures of catfish than any time in the history of the Senate of the United States of America.

   As you can see, these are common catfish characteristics: Single dorsal fin and adipose fin, strong spines in the dorsal and pectoral fins, whisker-like sensory barbels on the upper and lower jaws, all part of the order of Siluriformes. We are going to only call catfish the kind that are raised in the southeastern part of the United States.

   Proponents of this ban used the insidious technique of granting ownership of the term ``catfish'' to only North American catfish growers--as if Southern agribusinesses have exclusive rights to the name of a fish that is farmed around the world, from Brazil to Thailand. According to the FDA and the American Fisheries Society, the Pangasius species of catfish imported from Vietnam and other countries are ``freshwater catfishes of Africa and southern Asia.'' In addition, current FDA regulations prohibit these products from being labeled simply as ``catfish''. Under existing regulations, a qualifier such as ``basa,'' or ``striped'' must accompany the term ``catfish'' so that consumers are able to make an informed choice about what they are eating.

   These fish were indeed catfish, until Congress, with little review and no debate, determined them not to be. No other animal or plant name has been defined in statute this way.

   All other acceptable market names for fish are determined by the FDA in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service after review of scientific literature and market practices.

   What are the effects of this import restriction? As with any protectionist measure, blocking trade and relying only on domestic production will increase the price of catfish for the many Americans who enjoy eating it. One in three seafood restaurants in America serves catfish, attesting to its popularity.

   This trade ban will raise the prices wholesalers and retail customers pay for catfish, and Americans who eat catfish will feel that price increase--a price increase imposed purely to line the pockets of Southern agribusinesses and their lobbyists who have conducted a scurrilous campaign against foreign catfish for the most parochial reasons.

   The ban on catfish imports has other grave implications. It patently violates our solemn trade agreement with Vietnam, the very same trade agreement the Senate ratified by a vote of 88 to 12 only 2 months ago. The ink was not dry on that agreement when the catfish lobby and its congressional allies slipped the catfish amendment into a must-pass appropriations bill.

   A lot of things come over the Internet these days. This is one called the Nelson Report. The title of it is the ``Catfish War.'' It talks about an obscure amendment to the agricultural bill that puts the U.S. in violation of the Vietnam BTA barely days after it goes into effect, and it is not just a bilateral problem. The labeling requirement goes to the heart of the U.S. fight with European use of GMO protectionism. It has already forced the USTR to back off from supporting Peruvian sardines.

   No. 1, don't get us wrong: We here at Nelson Report World Headquarters flat out love fresh Arkansas catfish. Serve it all the time at our house, with Paul Prudhomme's spicy seasoning. Tasty and nutritious. So nothing in the Report which follows should be interpreted as bad mouthing, you should pardon the expression, catfish from the good old U.S. of A.

   --and we will confess going along with the crowd, every time Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas launched into one of her lectures on the inequities of lower priced Vietnamese catfish coming into the U.S. All of us at the press table, and back in the high priced lobby gallery, were too smart for our britches. So we missed the FY '02 Agriculture Appropriations amendment, now signed into law, requiring that only U.S.-grown catfish of a certain biological genus can actually be called catfish.

   That's right: U.S. law now says you can be ugly, you can have whiskers, you can feed on unspeakable things off the bottom of whatever bit of god's creation you happen to be swimming around in, but if you ain't in the same genus as your Arkansas cousins, you ain't a catfish. Or, rather, you can't be called a catfish. That's now the law of the U.S., to be enforced by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

   --so what, you may ask? Ask your spousal unit, or friends, who does the grocery shopping. Except maybe in Little Rock, catfish isn't marketed by brand name. You look for a package that says ``catfish.'' That's it. So now, if a catfish from Vietnam, or Thailand, or some of the places in Africa that export catfish happens to be in your supermarket, you may never find out, since they've got to be called something else.

   The amendment Senator Gramm and I offered will repeal this

   import restriction on catfish. The amendment would define catfish according to existing FDA procedures that follow scientific standards and market practices. Not only is restrictive catfish language offensive in principle to our free trade policies, our recent overwhelming ratification of the bilateral trade agreement and our relationship with Vietnam, it also flagrantly disregards the facts about the catfish trade.

   I would like to rebut this campaign of misinformation by setting straight these facts as reported by agricultural officials at our Embassy in Vietnam who have investigated the Vietnamese catfish industry in depth. The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam summarizes the situation in this way. This is the exact language from our Embassy in Vietnam:

   Based on embassy discussions with Vietnamese government and industry officials and a review of recent reports by U.S.-based experts, the embassy does not believe there is evidence to support claims that Vietnamese catfish exports to the United States are subsidized, unhealthy, undermining, or having an ``injurious'' impact on the catfish market in the U.S.

   Our Embassy goes on to state:

   In the case of catfish, the embassy has found little or no evidence that the U.S. industry or health of the consuming public is facing a threat from Vietnam's emerging catfish export industry....... Nor does there appear to be substance to claims that catfish raised in Vietnam are less healthy than [those raised in] other countries.

   The U.S. Embassy reported the following:

   Subsidies: American officials indicate that the Vietnamese Government provides no direct subsidies to its catfish industry.

   Health and safety standards: The Embassy is unable to identify any evidence to support claims that Vietnamese catfish are of questionable quality and may pose health risks. FDA officials have visited Vietnam and have confirmed quality standards there. U.S. importers of Vietnamese catfish are required to certify that their imports comply with FDA requirements and FDA inspectors certify these imports meet American standards.

   A normal increase in imports: The Embassy finds no evidence to suggest that Vietnam is purposely directing catfish exports to the United States to establish a market there.

   Labeling: The Vietnamese reached an agreement with the FDA on a labeling scheme to differentiate Vietnamese catfish from U.S. catfish in U.S. retail markets. As our Embassy reports, the primary objective should be to provide Americans consumers with informed choices, not diminish choice by restricting imports.

   The facts are clear. The midnight amendment passed without a vote is based not on any concern for the health and well-being of the American consumer. The restriction on catfish imports slipped into the Agriculture appropriations bill serves only the interests of the catfish producers in six Southern States that profit by restricting the choice of the American consumer by banning the competition.

   The catfish lobby's advertising campaign on behalf of its protectionist agenda has few facts to rely on to support its case, so it stands on scurrilous fear-mongering to make its claim that catfish raised in good old Mississippi mud are the only fish with whiskers safe to eat. One of these negative advertisements which ran in the national trade weekly ``Supermarket News'' tells us in shrill tones:

   Never trust a catfish with a foreign accent.

   This ad characterizes Vietnamese catfish as dirty and goes on to say:

   They've grown up flapping around in Third World rivers and dining on whatever they can get their fins on....... Those other guys probably couldn't spell U.S. even if they tried.

   How enlightened. I believe a far more accurate assessment is provided in the Far Eastern Economic Review in its feature article on this issue:

   For a bunch of profit-starved fisherfolk, the U.S. catfish lobby had deep enough pockets to wage a highly xenophobic advertising campaign against their Vietnamese competitors.

   Unfortunately, this protectionist campaign against catfish imports has global repercussions. Peru has brought a case against the European Union in the World Trade Organization because the Europeans have claimed exclusive rights to the word ``sardine'' for trade purposes. The Europeans would define sardines to be sardines only if they are caught in European waters, thereby threatening the sardine fisheries in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to passage of the catfish-labeling language in the Agriculture appropriations bill, the U.S. Trade Representative had committed to file a brief supporting Peru's position before the WTO that such a restrictive definition unfairly protected European fishermen at the expense of sardine fishermen in the Western Hemisphere. As the Peruvians, a large number of American fishermen would suffer the effects of an implicit European import ban on the sardines that are their livelihood.

   Yet as a direct consequence of the passage of the restrictive catfish-labeling language in the Agriculture appropriations bill, the USTR has withdrawn its brief supporting the Peruvian position in the sardine case against the European Union because the catfish amendment written into law makes the United States guilty of the same type of protectionist labeling scheme for which we have brought suit against the Europeans in the WTO.

   Mr. President, I obviously do have a lot more to say. I know the opponents of this amendment have a lot to say as well. I would take heed, however, to the admonishments of the managers of the bill, the Senator from Iowa, the Senator from Mississippi, and I would be glad to enter into a time agreement so we can dispense with this amendment as quickly as possible.

   I do not know how both Senators from Arkansas feel, but I would propose a half hour--Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to engage in a colloquy with the Senators from Arkansas.

 

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I wish to draw my colleagues' attention to an action Congress recently took, but which they most likely know nothing about, a severe restriction on all catfish imports into the United States. Much more is at stake here than trade in strange-looking fish with whiskers. In fact, this import barrier has grave implications for the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, for our trade relations with a host of nations, and for American consumers and fishermen. America's commitment to free trade, and the prosperity we enjoy as a result of open trade policies, have been put at risk by a small group of Members of Congress on behalf of the catfish industry in their States, without debate or a vote in the Congress. Consequently, Senators GRAMM, KERRY, and I are offering an amendment to the farm bill to elevate the national interest over these parochial interests by stripping this narrow-minded import restriction from the books and ensuring that we define ``catfish'' for trade purposes in a way that reflects sound science, not the politics of protectionism.

   During consideration of the Senate version of the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2002, I voiced deep concern about the managers' decision to ``clear'' a package of 35 amendments just before final passage of the bill. The vast majority of Senators had received no information about the content of these amendments and had had no chance to review them.

   As it turns out, I had good reason to be concerned. Included in the managers' package was an innocuous-sounding amendment banning the Food and Drug Administration from using any funds to process imports of fish or fish products labeled as ``catfish'' unless the fish have a certain Latin family name. In fact, of the 2,500 species of catfish on Earth, this amendment allows the FDA to process only a certain type raised in North America, and specifically those that grow in six southern States. The practical effect is to restrict all catfish imports into our country by requiring that they be labeled as something other than catfish, an underhanded way for U.S. catfish producers to shut out the competition. With a clever trick of Latin phraseology and without even a ceremonial nod to the vast body of trade laws and practices we rigorously observe, this damaging amendment, slipped into the managers' package and ultimately signed into law as part of the Agriculture Appropriations bill, literally bans Federal officials from processing any and all catfish imports labeled as what they are, catfish.

   Proponents of this ban used the insidious technique of granting ownership of the term ``catfish'' to only North American catfish growers, as if southern agribusinesses have exclusive rights to the name of a fish that is farmed around the world, from Brazil to Thailand. According to the Food and Drug Administration and the American Fisheries Society, the Pangasius species of catfish imported from Vietnam and other countries are ``freshwater catfishes of Africa and southern Asia.'' In addition, current FDA regulations prohibit these products from being labeled simply as ``catfish.'' Under existing regulations, a qualifier such as ``basa'' or ``striped'' must accompany the term ``catfish'' so that consumers are able to make an informed choice about what they're eating.

   These fish were indeed catfish until Congress, with little review and no debate, determined them not to be. No other animal or plant name has been defined in statute this way. All other acceptable market names for fish are determined by the FDA, in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, after a review of scientific literature and market practices.

   What are the effects of this import restriction? As with any protectionist measure, blocking trade and relying on only domestic production will increase the price of catfish for the many Americans who enjoy eating it. One in three seafood restaurants in America serves catfish, attesting to its popularity. This trade ban will raise the prices wholesalers and their retail customers pay for catfish, and Americans who eat catfish will feel that price increase, a price increase imposed purely to line the pockets of Southern agribusinesses and their lobbyists, who have conducted a scurrilous campaign against foreign catfish for the most parochial reasons.

   The ban on catfish imports has other grave implications. It patently violates our solemn trade agreement with Vietnam, the very same trade agreement the Senate ratified by a vote of 88-12 only two months ago. The ink was not yet dry on that agreement when the catfish lobby and their Congressional allies slipped their midnight amendment into a must-pass appropriations bill.

   Over the last 10 years, our Nation has engaged in a gradual process of normalizing diplomatic and trade relations with Vietnam. Our engagement has yielded results: the prosperity and daily freedoms of the Vietnamese people have increased as Vietnam has opened to the world. The engine of this change has been the rapid economic growth brought about by an end to the closed economy under which the Vietnamese people stagnated during the 1980s. Many Americans, including many veterans, who have visited Vietnam have been struck by these changes, and the potential for capitalism in Vietnam to advance our interest in freedom and democracy there. We have a long way to go, but we are planting the seeds of progress through our engagement with the Vietnamese, as reflected most recently in ratification of the bilateral trade agreement by both the United States Senate and the Vietnamese National Assembly. Indeed, the trade agreement only took effect this week.

   This trade agreement is the pinnacle of the normalization process between our countries. It completes the efforts of four American presidents to establish normal relations between the United States and Vietnam. It is the institutional anchor of our relationship with Vietnam, the 14th-largest nation on Earth, and one with which we share a number of important interests.

   Yet in the wake of such historic progress, and after preaching for years to the Vietnamese about the need to get government out of the business of micromanaging the economy, we have sadly implicated ourselves in the very sin our trade policy claims to reject. The amendment slipped into the Agriculture Appropriations bill openly violates the national treatment provisions of our trade agreement with Vietnam, in a troubling example of the very parochialism we have urged the Vietnamese government to abandon by ratifying the agreement.

   The amendment Senator Gramm and I are offering today would repeal this import restriction on catfish. Our amendment would define ``catfish'' according to existing FDA procedures that follow scientific standards and market practices.

   Not only is the restrictive catfish language offensive in principle to our free trade policies, our recent overwhelming ratification of the Bilateral Trade Agreement, and our relationship with Vietnam; it also flagrantly disregards the facts about the catfish trade. I'd like to rebut this campaign of misinformation by setting straight these facts, as reported by agricultural officials at our embassy in Hanoi who have investigated the Vietnamese catfish industry in depth.

   The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam summarizes the situation in this way: ``Based on embassy discussions with Vietnamese government and industry officials and a review of recent reports by U.S.-based experts, the embassy does not believe there is evidence to support claims that Vietnamese catfish exports to the United States are subsidized, unhealthy, undermining, or having an `injurious' impact on the catfish market in the U.S.'' Our embassy goes on to state: ``In the case of catfish, the embassy has found little or no evidence that the U.S. industry or health of the consuming public is facing a threat from Vietnam's emerging catfish export industry..... .Nor does there appear to be substance to claims that catfish raised in Vietnam are less healthy than [those raised in] other countries.'' The U.S. embassy reports the following: Subsidies: American officials indicate that the Vietnamese government provides no direct subsidies to its catfish industry; Health and Safety Standards: The embassy is unable to identify any evidence to support claims that Vietnamese catfish are of questionable quality and may pose health risks. FDA officials have visited Vietnam and have confirmed quality standards there. U.S. importers of Vietnamese catfish are required to certify that their imports comply with FDA requirements, and FDA inspections certify that these imports meet American standards; A normal increase in imports: The embassy finds no evidence to suggest that Vietnam is purposely directing catfish exports to the United States to establish market share; and Labeling: The Vietnamese reached an agreement with the FDA on a labeling scheme to differentiate Vietnamese catfish from American catfish in U.S. retail markets. As our embassy reports, the primary objective should be to provide American consumers with informed choices, not diminish the choice by restricting imports.

   The facts are clear, the midnight amendment passed without a vote is based not on any concern for the health and well-being of the American consumer. The restriction on catfish imports slipped into the Agriculture Appropriations bill serves only the interests of the catfish producers in six southern States who profit by restricting the choice of the American consumer by banning the competition.

   The catfish lobby's advertising campaign on behalf of its protectionist agenda has few facts to rely on to support its case, so it stands on scurrilous fear-mongering to make its claim that catfish raised in good old Mississippi mud are the only fish with whiskers safe to eat. One of these negative advertisements, which ran in the national trade weekly Supermarket News, tells us in shrill tones, ``Never trust a catfish with a foreign accent!'' This ad characterizes Vietnamese catfish as dirty and goes on to say, ``They've grown up flapping around in Third World rivers and dining on whatever they can get their fins on.......Those other guys probably couldn't spell U.S. even if they tried.'' How enlightened.

   I believe a far more accurate assessment is provided in the Far Eastern Economic Review, in its feature article on this issue: ``For a bunch of profit-starved fisherfolk, the U.S. catfish lobby had deep enough pockets to wage a highly xenophobic advertising campaign against their Vietnamese competitors.''

   Unfortunately, this protectionist campaign against catfish imports has global repercussions. Peru has brought a case against the European Union in the World Trade Organization because the Europeans have claimed exclusive rights to the use of the word ``sardine'' for trade purposes. The Europeans would define sardines to be sardines only if they are caught off European waters, thereby threatening the sardine fisheries in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to passage of the catfish-labeling language in the Agriculture Appropriations bill, the United States Trade Representative had committed to file a brief supporting Peru's position before the WTO that such a restrictive definition unfairly protected European fishermen at the expense of sardine fishermen in the Western Hemisphere. Like the Peruvians, a large number of American fishermen would suffer the effects of an implicit European import ban on the sardines that are their livelihood.

   Yet as a direct consequence of the passage of the restrictive catfish-labeling language in the Agriculture Appropriations bill, USTR has withdrawn its brief supporting the Peruvian position in the sardine case against the European Union because the catfish amendment written into law makes the United States guilty of the same type of protectionist labeling scheme for which we have brought suit against the Europeans in the WTO. The WTO has previously ruled against such manipulation of trade definitions which, if allowed to stand in this case, could be used as a precedent to close off foreign markets to a number of U.S. products. I doubt the sponsors of the restrictive catfish language in the Agriculture Appropriations bill happily contemplate the potential of the Pandora's Box they have opened.

   This blanket restriction on catfish imports, passed without debate and without a vote on its merits, has no place in our laws. I urge my colleagues to join us in striking it from the books and allowing science, not politics, to define what a catfish is by supporting our amendment.

   Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I rise as a cosponsor of Senator McCain's amendment. This amendment would repeal a provision in the recently enacted Agriculture Appropriations bill that prohibits for the current fiscal year, the FDA from using any funds to process imports of fish or fish products labeled as ``catfish'' unless the fish have a certain scientific family name that is only found in North America. The House-passed version of the Farm bill contains a similar provision that would make the ban on imports permanent. The amendment we are offering seeks to reverse this position as well.

   A number of scientific classification organizations have identified over 30 distinct families of catfish world-wide and over 2,500 different species within these families. Quite frankly, the classification of species is a subject that I think is best left with the scientific community and the experts at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Food and Drug Administration. I understand the concerns of the American catfish industry, however these kinds of trade wars only lead to our trading partners enacting similar protectionist measures against U.S. food producers.

   For example, the European Union has passed a provision that prohibits the use of the word sardine for anything other than the European species of sardine. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was arguing to the World Trade Organization that the EU's new import policy restricting the labeling of sardines was unfair. After all, North American herring are a part of the sardine family, just like Vietnamese basa is part of the catfish family. Once the Agriculture Conference Report became law however, with its one year ban on imported catfish, everything stopped. American fishermen and processors in the Northeast have the Peruvian and Canadian governments to thank for stepping in to file a complaint with the WTO; otherwise American fishermen and processors have little hope of ever entering into the EU export market.

   Back in 1993 the French government attempted a similar provision for scallops. Only European caught scallops could be sold as ``Noix de Coquille Saint-Jacques'', which reduced the market value of imported scallops by 25 percent. The U.S. and a number of other nations protested to the WTO and overturned the decision.

   The U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement, which came into force this week, requires that each country give ``national treatment'' to the products of the other country when those products share a likeness with domestic products. By denying American importers the right to bring in Vietnamese catfish under the name ``catfish'', the provision enacted in the Agricultural Appropriations Conference report, and the language in the House-passed farm bill, violate the trade agreement by denying the same treatment to Vietnamese catfish as we give to American raised catfish.

   The U.S.-Vietnam trade agreement is a vehicle for opening the Vietnamese economy to American goods and services. It is the precursor to a WTO agreement. For the United States to violate the letter and the spirit of that agreement by restricting the importation of Vietnamese catfish will undermine the process of implementation of that agreement before it has even begun.

   I wish to remind my colleagues that Brazil, Thailand, and Guyana are all members of the WTO and all three countries also export catfish to the U.S. This provision would deny them access to our markets as well, and I would not be surprised if they successfully protest this matter to the WTO should we choose not to repeal this provision.

   I understand the desire of my colleagues in the Senate and the House to try to help their domestic catfish farmers who have hit on hard times. I believe one of the ways to do this is to make it clear to the American consumer where the fish that they are purchasing comes from. Existing FDA and Customers regulations require country of origin labeling on catfish that is imported by U.S. companies. In fact, one of those importers in my home State of Massachusetts has shown me the label on his catfish. It leaves no doubt about the origin of the fish. However, I believe we should go a step further to include country of origin labeling for fish products at the consumer level as well. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from.

   I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.