WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it was launching an investigation that could lead to punitive duties on billions of dollars of shrimp from China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Ecuador to offset alleged foreign government subsidies.
The Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries, which represents shrimp fisherman in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, asked for the probe in late December, saying their industry was at risk because of lower-priced imports from the seven countries.
The investigation comes as the United States engages in regional free-trade talks with two of the countries targeted by the case, 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 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 is expected to announce its preliminary findings in coming months and make a final decision on countervailing duties by the end of the year.
The U.S. International Trade Commission also must approve final duties for them to take force.