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From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.
The Senate recently passed a measure meant to ease passage of trade legislation. The bill will affect approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which involves 12 nations around the Pacific Ocean. But a sharp disagreement over fresh water catfish has hurt the trade negotiations in the U.S. Senate.
Farm-raised catfish is a local U.S. industry valued at less than $1 billion in yearly production. The Senate dispute arose when Republican lawmaker John McCain criticized a measure calling for increased U.S. government inspections of Asian catfish. He said the true purpose of the catfish program is to protect a small, handful of catfish farmers in the South. McCain called the measure a protectionist program. Seven years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was ordered to establish and administer a new catfish inspection plan. Ten Asian-Pacific nations have sent letters warning that this issue is hurting TPP negotiations. At least one nation, Vietnam, has threatened trade retaliation. Senator Roger Wicker represents the state of Mississippi, one of America’s biggest catfish producers. He says the real issue is not protectionism but the health of American consumers. He says this is about food safety. Senator Wicker says Asian-produced seafood has been found to have higher levels of chemicals and other harmful substances. The strong debate is just one of the barriers to completing the 12-nation free trade agreement. Each country has its own interests to protect.