It appears the Donald Trump-led United States government has a talent of late for picking fights with its once valuable trading partners.
While the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been garnering most of the headlines, there appears to be another spat brewing between the U.S. and China.
The U.S. is threatening to impose higher tariffs on, among other things, imported Chinese seafood. Many in the American seafood industry are fearful that if such tariffs are levied, it will surely lead to painful retaliation against U.S. seafood exports, notably lobster originating from Maine.
“Not only because China is a crucial current and future market for U.S. fish, but also because there is no ready substitute for the China market,” said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute.
In 2017, U.S. lobster exports to China were worth more than $90.2 million and rising ― that’s 125 times bigger than it was just a decade earlier.
In 2017, China imported 17.8 million pounds of U.S. lobster, an amount that has gone up about 20 per cent every year since 2010. China’s middle class, which is 300 million strong, see lobster as a celebratory food that represents their rising fortunes and wealth.
In 2017, China’s appetite for U.S. lobster helped offset declines in European imports, which fell off in part because of the CETA trade deal between Canada and European Union countries that put the Maine lobster at a tariff differential with Canadian lobster, The Portland Press Herald recently explained.
The growth of the Chinese market has supported the creation of thousands of new industry jobs in Maine, Anne Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association, explained at a recent panel discussion about trade with Asia as part of the Maine International Trade Center’s International Trade Day.
She estimated the industry employs a total of 14,000 people in Maine, in direct fishing jobs as well as support and distribution roles.
“(We) are beginning to run out of options as to where we may market and promote our products around the world,” Tselikis said. “We cannot suffer a blow to the Chinese lobster market, too.”
U.S. seafood exporters worry that fishermen from Russia, Iceland, Thailand, Norway, Vietnam, Chile and especially Canada, are just waiting to elbow out American competitors from the Chinese market if seafood tariffs are levied.
Nova Scotian fishermen and processors have already made great strides when it comes to opening markets in China for locally-caught lobster. In fact, the Chinese appear to have acquired a taste for Nova Scotia lobster and can’t get enough of it.
The Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA) reported this year that China was the top market for live Nova Scotia lobster, with the volume of exports to this country increasing by 63 per cent over the previous year, double the average growth of all export destination countries.
Thus, if trade talks between the U.S. and China continue to go sideways, as is predicted, then the N.S. lobster industry might be on the verge of more lobster market share in the lucrative and all-important Asian market.