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U.S. industry presses for duties on shrimp from seven countries

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. shrimp producers filed a petition on Friday asking the Commerce Department to impose punitive duties on billions of dollars of shrimp from China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Ecuador to offset what they said were unfair foreign government subsidies.

"Today's filing is about the survival of the entire U.S. shrimp industry," C. David Veal, executive director of the Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries, said in a statement.

The group represents shrimp fisherman in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas who say they have lost U.S. market share to lower-priced imports from the six countries in Asia and the one in South America.

"Our harvesters, docks, and processors have all played a vital role in the economy and culture of the Gulf region throughout its history. This case will help determine whether together we can continue to create jobs, contribute to economic growth, and sustain communities across the Gulf states for years to come," Veal said.

The request could be awkward for the United States because it is engaged in regional free-trade talks with two of the countries targeted by the petition, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The threat of punitive U.S. duties on their shrimp exports could make those countries reluctant to agree to U.S. demands for market-opening in other sectors.

The seven countries named in the petition exported $4.3 billion worth of shrimp to the United States in 2011, accounting for 85 percent of U.S. imports and over three-quarters of the domestic market, the U.S. industry group said.

The Commerce Department has several weeks to decide whether to launch an investigation. Assuming it does, final countervailing duties could be in place by the end of 2013 if illegal foreign subsidies are found, the group said.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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