Sullivan provision closes another loophole to ‘keep American fish in, foreign fish out’

Washington (KINY) – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and 81 of his fellow senators Wednesday passed legislation that included a Sullivan amendment to close a loophole allowing Chinese seafood, or Russian seafood laundered through China, to be purchased by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Sullivan previously championed a “Buy American” provision in the 2018 Farm Bill that requires the NSLP to only purchase domestically landed and processed fish, but School Food Authorities (SFAs) have been given discretion to bypass this requirement when a foreign bid costs less than a domestic bid.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already put forward a rule to limit SFAs’ discretion to buy foreign-sourced seafood to just five percent of their purchasing budget, but Sullivan’s amendment removes that discretion entirely.

“In 2018, we fought for and delivered a ‘Buy American’ provision in the Farm Bill to give our students fresh, delicious, sustainable seafood caught by American fishermen,” said Sen. Sullivan. “Unfortunately, a loophole allows National School Lunch Program purchasers to keep buying foreign fish—possibly even Russian-sourced fish breaded and pumped with phosphates in China that we thought we’d already banned—if they can demonstrate it saves even one percent of the cost relative to domestic fish. This has to end once and for all. ‘Buy American’ should mean ‘Buy American.’ I want to thank my colleagues who’ve joined me in standing up for our fishermen, our coastal communities, and our children in Alaska and throughout the country.”

The legislation, including Sullivan’s amendment, now goes to the House for consideration.

Sen. Sullivan has been a leading advocate for American fishermen in Congress, including fighting against the non-reciprocal seafood trading relationship that enabled Russians to access the U.S. market while blocking American seafood imports.

Since the signing of an executive order in March of 2022 banning Russian seafood imports, Russia has been able to evade this prohibition by having their seafood processed in China, products that are then labeled “Product of China.”

Russian seafood could potentially be accessing the NSLP through this same mechanism. 

In June, Sen. Sullivan put forward legislation to close this larger loophole.

Below is background on Sen. Sullivan and the Alaska congressional delegation’s work on behalf of the Alaska seafood industry: 

  • In 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine. In response, the United States and its allies imposed a suite of sanctions, not including Russian seafood imports. Russia then enacted retaliatory sanctions, including against U.S. seafood imports, creating the imbalanced seafood trade relationship that exists today between the two countries.
  • In 2016, President Barack Obama signed legislation that included a provision authored by Sen. Sullivan that requires fisheries to be included as a principal negotiating objective for all future trade agreements.
  • In August of 2018, Sen. Sullivan testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission against the inclusion of Alaska seafood products in the $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese imports proposed by the Trump administration and highlighted the economic impact of the Russian embargo on U.S. seafood.
  • In October of 2018, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) removed proposed tariffs on Alaska salmon from the tariff package.
  • On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which included a Sullivan-authored “Buy American” provision requiring the NSLP to only purchase domestically landed and processed fish.
  • On June 9, 2019, the Alaska congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue urging the Trump administration to provide relief for Alaska fishermen and seafood processors, as it has for the domestic agriculture industry, from the devastating impacts of retaliatory tariffs inflicted on American products by China.
  • In January 2020, the Senate passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, which included an entire chapter on fisheries, including phasing out subsidies, combatting illegal fishing, prohibitions on certain vessels and operations, and reducing and removing tariffs.
  • On January 28, 2021, the Alaska congressional delegation sent a letter calling on Acting Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Shea to expeditiously develop and robustly fund a program to provide grants and forgivable loan support to seafood processing facilities and processing vessels for COVID-19 response measures, in fulfillment of language Sen. Murkowski included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
  • On May 14, 2021, the Alaska congressional delegation welcomed the USDA’s approval of a Section 32 purchase of up to $159.4 million in domestically-produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to food assistance programs in Alaska and across the country, to help offset the impacts of market restrictions by foreign countries.
  • On February 9. 2022, Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski introduced the U.S-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act, legislation that would impose a ban on the import of all Russian seafood products into the United States.
  • On February 15, 2022, Sen. Sullivan included a provision in the Never Yielding Europe’s Territory (NYET) Act that directs the federal government to prohibit Russian seafood imports into the U.S.
  • On February 17, 2022, Sen. Sullivan attempted to pass the U.S-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act by unanimous consent, but the bill was blocked by Senate Democrats. 
  • On March 11, 2022, the Biden administration announced it will prohibit the import of Russian seafood into the United States, in addition to banning goods from several other signature sectors of Russia’s economy. President Biden also announced his intention to revoke Russia’s “most-favored nation” status as a member of the World Trade Organization. Sen. Sullivan called for this sanction on Saturday, March 5, 2022, after hearing from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a congressional Zoom meeting.
  • On April 20, 2023, Sen. Sullivan introduced the Fighting Foreign Illegal Seafood Harvest (FISH) Act, legislation to combat foreign illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by blacklisting offending vessels from U.S. ports and waters, bolstering the U.S. Coast Guard’s enforcement capabilities, and advancing international and bilateral negotiations to achieve enforceable agreements and treaties.
  • On June 15, 2023, Sens. Sullivan and Murkowski introduced the U.S-Russian Federation Seafood Reciprocity Act of 2023, legislation that would impose a comprehensive ban on the import of all Russian-origin seafood products into the United States. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.) and Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska).
  • On June 22, 2023, Sen. Sullivan introduced the National Seafood Supply Act of 2023, comprehensive seafood-related legislation intended to bolster USDA support for domestic fishermen and seafood producers.