OSLO Norwegian salmon farmers can freely send fish to the United States for the first time in 21 years after U.S. officials dropped a penalty tariff stemming from old charges that Norway had dumped underpriced salmon in U.S. markets.
Norway is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the world and exported more than $5 billion worth last year, two thirds of it to other European countries.
The decision to rescind the 24 percent penalty duty on fresh whole Norwegian fish was announced on Thursday by the United States International Trade Commission.
"This gives us absolutely an extra opportunity," Alf-Helge Aarskog, chief executive of Norway's Marine Harvest ASA, told Reuters. "Norwegian salmon is attractive in the USA, and always has been."
The cost of air transport across the Atlantic will however keep Norway-based salmon farmers at a disadvantage to Canadian and Chilean competitors, analysts said, noting salmon was a globally priced commodity.
Although the United States has never hindered the import of Norwegian fillets, Norway sold less than 20,000 tonnes to American importers last year out of the nearly 1 million tonnes of salmon it sent abroad.
Aarskog said salmon from his fjords would remain rare in American supermarkets but that American sushi restaurants may begin offering it.
"They want whole fish and that is likely a market that will open up to us now," he said.
In 1991 the U.S. Commerce Department found that fresh salmon from Norway had been subsidized and sold at less than fair value, a charge Norway has long disputed.
"We have seen the American anti-dumping duty as pure protectionism," said Sveinung Sandvik, head of the Norwegian Seafood Federation, a trade group.
"Once you are judged in the USA it is very difficult to come out of the penalty system," Sandvik added.
Norway has also wrangled with China over salmon. Producers Salmar ASA and Leroey Seafood have said China was hindering imports in apparent retaliation for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award by a Norwegian committee to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Nordea Markets analyst Kolbjoern Giskeoedegaard said salmon trade patterns would change little after the U.S. policy shift. Sending Norwegian fish to the United States adds $1 per kilogram to the sale price, relegating it to niche markets, he said.
"The Canadians will still have a strategic advantage in the American market," he said. "They can just truck it over the border."
The United States's own production of Atlantic salmon is small. In 2010, Norwegian production was 53 times greater, according to research bureau Kontali Analyse.
The U.S. trade commission did not comment on its decision except to say it did not expect a repeat of the "material injury" to U.S. interests that prompted the original penalty.
(Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg; Editing by David Holmes)