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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 05:56 GMT 06:56 UK
US hits out at catfish and chips
A catfish
The newly aggressive line on world trade emanating from the US was again in evidence on Tuesday night, as the Department of Commerce took aim at Vietnamese catfish and South Korean microchips.

The decision to slap a 45% tariff on memory chips from financially troubled vendor Hynix comes at the behest of US manufacturer Micron, which alleged that the South Korean government was unfairly subsidising the company's exports.

Vietnam's catfish growers are also in the firing line for allegedly "dumping" the fish fillets - exporting below cost or below the price on the home market - in what will be the first test of a US-Vietnam trade pact signed 18 months ago.

Both countries are protesting vociferously. South Korea says it will go to the World Trade Organisation over the tariffs, and Hynix chief executive EJ Woo called the the US action "unjustified and illegal".

And Vietnam insists that its catfish are cheaper simply because costs are much lower there than in the US.

One on one

While the WTO's global trade talks remain bogged down, not least because the European Union, the US and Japan are unwilling to get rid of huge agricultural tariffs, US trade negotiators have been pushing hard for bilateral deals to open up foreign markets to US exporters.

The Vietnam deal is only one of a chain of similar pacts with countries from Chile to Singapore.

Tuesday's actions come just 24 hours after the US's International Trade Commission backed a complaint from a Tennessee TV maker that TVs made in China were being dumped on the US market, imposing an 84% tariff.

Similarly, Malaysian manufacturers are facing a tariff of 46%.

In the meantime, the US's own actions have come in for criticism in recent years.

Since coming into office in Jaunary 2001, the administration of President George W Bush has introduced swingeing tariffs on foreign steel - albeit with broad-based exemptions - and has upped agricultural subsidies by more than $60bn.

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