Published: Feb 18, 2011 5:13 PM EST
Updated: Feb 18, 2011 2:13 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department has delayed a decision on a new catfish inspection program that threatens to derail U.S. trade relations with Vietnam.

The agency released a proposed rule Friday seeking more comment on the key question of whether Asian catfish will be subject to a new inspection regime that Congress passed in 2008 and that Asian producers say could kill their export business to the U.S.

The domestic catfish industry, mostly located in the South, has worked for years to slow imports. They convinced Congress to include new rules in the 2008 Farm Bill making catfish the only seafood to be inspected by USDA instead of the Food and Drug Administration.

Asian producers, particularly Vietnamese, say USDA's on-site inspections would take years to establish overseas and amount to protectionism. (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)