In trade war escalation, China targets US seafood products with 25 percent tariff

On Friday, 15 June, China announced it will impose 25 percent tariffs on a swathe of American seafood products, including salmon, lobster, shrimp, cod, tuna, pollock, oysters, scallops, Dungeness and snow crab, sablefish, and geoduck. The tariffs will be imposed beginning 6 July, according to a statement from the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China.

The move has been feared by the U.S. seafood industry since U.S. President Donald Trump initiated a trade war with China in January by imposing a first round of tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. Trump followed that up in May by adding tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and earlier in the day on 15 June by announcing tariffs on all Chinese goods containing “industrially significant technologies,” covering between USD 34 and 50 billion (EUR 29.3 and 43.1 billion) worth of Chinese goods. Trump said the tariffs were an effort to boost domestic production in the United States and pressure China on claims by U.S. companies of intellectual property theft.

“These tariffs are essential to preventing further unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China, which will protect American jobs,” Trump said in a statement. “In addition, they will serve as an initial step toward bringing balance to the trade relationship between the United States and China.”

In its statement, China’s Ministry of Finance accused the U.S. of violating World Trade Organization rules and the terms of numerous Sino-U.S. trade agreements.

“It seriously violates our legitimate rights and interests and threatens the interests of our country and people,” the ministry said.

The National Fisheries Institute, the U.S. seafood industry group, issued a press release on 15 June saying it is still reviewing the full list of more than 500 products – including 170 seafood products – that have been targeted, in order to determine the tariffs’ potential impact on U.S. seafood exports. The group had urged the Trump administration and other U.S. government officials against dragging the seafood industry into the trade war.

“We are deeply disappointed in these retaliatory tariffs,” NFI President John Connelly said in a 15 June statement. “There is no connection between the products targeted by the U.S. and the tariffs Beijing plans to impose on exported American seafood.”

Connelly said the tariffs will hurt fishing families and communities across the United States.

“It is not clear where these trade actions will ultimately lead, what is clear is that they will negatively impact American seafood jobs,” Connelly said. “It is Maine lobstermen, the men and women on boats in Alaska and families harvesting and processing seafood in the Pacific Northwest who will feel the brunt of the [a]dministration’s misguided policy.”

The U.S. imported more than USD 2.7 billion (EUR 2.3 billion) in Chinese seafood last year, while exporting an estimated USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) worth of seafood products to China. Of that total, approximately USD 750 million (EUR 646.4 million) worth was exported from Alaska to China, more than 35 percent of Alaska’s total catch. 

With the sockeye salmon season just beginning in Alaska and with Alaska Governor Bill Walker having recently returned from a trade mission to China during which he called for a tripling of his state’s seafood exports to China, it was a particularly bad time for seafood to enter into the U.S.-China trade war, Copper River Seafoods Chief Development Officer Martin Weiser explained to television station KTUU.

“So, now with China being a large consumer of Alaskan seafood, and us having this tariff imposed… we're probably going to export a lot less seafood to China," Weiser said. "It's unfortunate." 

Alaska pollock producers also have been seeking to grow their market share in China amid tough competition with Russia, said Jim Gilmore, public affairs director for the Seattle-based At-Sea Processors Association, which represents six companies that catch and process pollock in Alaskan waters.

“This is the biggest market in the world, and to have the U.S. at a disadvantage to every competitor is a big deal,” Gilmore told the Seattle Times.

For many American seafood businesses with operations in China, the first priority will be determining whether the newly announced tariffs cover reprocessed products. but in the massive secondary processing industry that China has. A tariff could boomerang on China, impacting its fish processing workforce, as well.

In Maine, U.S. senators Susan Collins and Angus King and representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin issued a bipartisan, joint statement in response to the tariffs. The four lawmakers met in Portland, Maine on 4 June with three officials from the U.S. Trade Representative to urge the administration to keep lobster out of the trade dispute with China.

“Maine’s lobster industry is an irreplaceable piece of our state’s economy that supports thousands of jobs and entire coastal communities,” they said. “Just two weeks ago, the Maine delegation heard directly from our state’s lobster industry about the economic hardship a trade war with China would cause them. We will be outlining our concerns with the USTR about how these new tariffs will jeopardize this industry.”

Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, told The Associated Press he was hopeful the trade dispute would be settled before the tariffs go into effect.

"Hopefully cooler heads can prevail and we can get a solution," Jacobson said. "It's a year-round customer in China. This isn't good news at all."

Photo courtesy of Trident Seafoods


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