U.S. President Joe Biden has signed an executive order expanding the U.S. ban on Russian seafood to include imports of Russia-originated seafood processed in third countries, including China.
The unnumbered executive order, issued 22 December, expands U.S. Executive Order 14068 to prohibit the importation of seafood “harvested in Russian waters or by Russia-flagged vessels, even if these products are then transformed in a third country.”
“The United States has been clear: those who are supplying goods or processing transactions that materially support Russia’s military industrial base are complicit in Russia’s brutal violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden said the executive order resulted in part from the G7 Leaders’ statement, issued 6 December 2023. The order called for the group’s seven members – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the European Union – to step up its efforts against evasion and circumvention of their sanctions and export controls measures on Russian goods. The statement called for additional actions to further curtail Russia profiting from the export of its commodities, including through the imposition of measures to limit their sale through third countries.
Subsequent to the order, the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a determination identifying salmon, cod, pollock, and crab as the specific types of seafood subject to the prohibition. The expanded ban will go into effect immediately and contracts involving banned items will be permitted to enter the country only through 12:01 a.m. Eastern standard time on 21 February 2024, according to the department.
“I hereby determine that the prohibitions in … E.O. 14068 shall apply to the following categories of fish, seafood, and preparations thereof, that were produced wholly or in part in the Russian Federation, or harvested in waters under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation or by Russia-flagged vessels, notwithstanding whether such fish, seafood, and preparations thereof have been incorporated or substantially transformed into another product outside of the Russian Federation:  salmon, cod, pollock, and crab,” OFAC Director Bradley T. Smith said in a statement. “As a result, the importation and entry into the United States, including importation for admission into a foreign trade zone located in the United States, of such salmon, cod, pollock, or crab is prohibited, except to the extent provided by law, or unless licensed or otherwise authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.”
Since the original ban was put in place, both U.S. federal agencies and the seafood industry have warned that Russia is evading sanctions and export controls by using third-party intermediaries and transshipment points to circumvent U.S. import restrictions, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.
“The United States and our global coalition have put in place historic sanctions and export controls that have severely restricted Russia’s ability to equip its military to wage its brutal and unjustified war against Ukraine. Over nearly two years, our sanctions have significantly weakened the Russian economy and undermined the Kremlin’s war effort,” Yellen said in a 22 December statement. “Today, we are taking steps to level new and powerful tools against Russia’s war machine. As a result of our restrictions, Russia has increasingly shifted certain trade and financial flows through third countries to evade sanctions and continue its procurement of critical items for their wartime production.”
Direct imports of Russian seafood products declined from 48.8 million kilograms valued at USD 1.2 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) in 2021 to 23 million kilos valued at USD 920.2 million (EUR 843.6 million) in 2022, according to NOAA Fisheries. Data for 2023 is not available, nor is the amount Russian seafood that’s still entering the U.S. through third countries. China, the primary processor of Russian seafood, is also a major consumer itself, and has upped its imports of Russian seafood as more has become available with the deterioration of relations between Russia and the U.S. and E.U.
In October 2023, Trident Seafoods CEO Joe Bundrant issued a call for the U.S. government to take further action to ensure the ban Russian seafood was implemented effectively.
“In 2022, as part of its commitment to holding Russia accountable for its continued aggression in Ukraine, the Biden administration released an executive order banning the imports of fish, seafood, and other products from Russia. The objective of the U.S., European, and other ally governments is to isolate the Russian economy. Unfortunately, Russian seafood harvesters have been able to circumvent the ban in our sector by shifting their processing to other countries, including China,” he said. “Processed in China, the Russian fish then flows into the U.S. and Europe, tariff-free. The result is fueling Russia’s war and inhumane working conditions in China while also forcing responsible seafood producers to compete globally against a freefall in Russian seafood pricing. Meanwhile, U.S. seafood has been completely banned from Russia since 2014, and seafood exports to China have been subject to a 25 percent retaliatory tariff since 2018.”
Bundrant called out a lack of clarity in the origin of the seafood reaching the U.S. market, making it difficult for U.S. consumers to ascertain where their seafood originated.
“This unfair trade advantage, combined with so little transparency that consumers can’t discern Alaskan from Russian-harvested seafood, puts U.S. seafood producers at a huge disadvantage in U.S. and international markets, compounding already daunting challenges to the long-term competitiveness and viability of U.S. seafood production,” he said. “Without more support from the U.S. federal government to help address unfair trade, modernize our supply chains, and reinvest in our communities, every link in our seafood supply chain – from independent fishermen to distributors – faces an uncertain future.”
Alaska’s U.S. congressional delegation has introduced legislation to close loopholes in U.S. rules banning Russian seafood imports.
“If you’re against this bill, you’re for Russian oligarchs who are still avoiding sanctions on seafood, you’re against the American fishermen whether in Alaska or Massachusetts – because they’re getting screwed by this uneven trade relationship – and you’re helping the Chinese,” U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said on the Senate floor. “I can’t imagine anyone being against this.”
But U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) warned that tracing imported seafood back to its source can be tricky, and may be impossible without the expansion of the Seafood Import Monitoring Program.
“Unless that fish is one of the 13 species that happen to be covered by SIMP, the Russian origins of this seafood is untraceable, and the ban is impossible to enforce.”
U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said U.S. Customs and Border Protection lacks the resources to effectively implement the ban.
“It’s unclear if U.S. Customs and Border [Protection] has the full capacity to determine and enforce where seafood comes from before it has been substantially transformed, since this new proposal would go against how seafood origin has been considered under longstanding U.S. law and defined through the U.S. Treasury Department,” Markey said. 
Sullivan said both the CBP and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have assured him they have the ability to enforce the ban on Russian seafood processed in third countries.
Photo courtesy of photowalking/Shutterstock
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