National Fisheries Institute joins US business-backed campaign against tariffs

The National Fisheries Institute has joined around 80 other U.S. trade associations in a coordinated campaign to oppose tariffs and other barriers to free trade.

The multi-industry coalition, Americans for Free Trade, on Wedneday, 12 September, launched a multi-million dollar national campaign titled Tariffs Hurt the Heartland. The campaign is aimed at members of the U.S. Congress and the general public and will tell stories of American businesses, farmers, workers, and families being hurt by the recently imposed tariffs. It will include events in congressional districts across the country; paid television, radio, and online advertisements; a “rapid-response war room” that will fact check and respond to tariff announcements; a digital and traditional media campaign including op-eds, blogs, and press statements on tariff-related issues; and direct outreach to key members of Congress “on behalf of grassroots voices from across the nation,” according to the newly-formed organization.

“American jobs are fueled by international trade in seafood,” NFI President John Connelly said in a press release. “Without access to seafood imports from important markets like China, or if these products become too expensive, jobs here in the U.S. will pay the price.”

Partners in the campaign include the National Retail Federation, Farmers for Free Trade, Retail Industry Leaders, the Consumer Technology Association, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association. A full list of participating organizations can be seen at the campaign’s website,

The campaign is planning September events in Illinois, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, with additional events to be announced for October, according to a press release. In a letter sent to Congressional leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, the coalition outlined its goal of highlighting the harm U.S. tariffs and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries are causing on a wide swathe of American industries.

“Working together, our campaign will amplify the voices of the American families, workers, farmers and businesses who are being hurt by these tariffs,” the letter said. “While we agree that there are issues that need to be addressed with key trading partners, tariffs are the wrong approach to bring about meaningful change.”

The tariffs that have come out of the trade war between the United States and China are doing significant damage to the seafood industry, according to Connelly.

“Once seafood is imported to the U.S., it’s trucked, stored, processed, portioned, value-added, distributed, and sold in grocery stores and restaurants. The seafood supply chain works off of low profit margins, a 10 percent duty added to commercial seafood items will harm seafood businesses large and small, but a 25 percent duty will devastate them and ultimately cost jobs here,” he said. “The industry is unique in that seafood exporters from the U.S. are feeling the pain from the trade war now. Retaliatory tariffs from China targeting U.S. seafood have already caused lay-offs. Seafood jobs are hurt by tariffs coming and going.”

Sean O’Scannlain, the president and CEO of Bensenville, Illinois, U.S.A.-based Fortune Fish and Gourmet and a former chairman of the NFI, said in a conference call announcing the NFI’s participation in the campaign that the tariffs could force him to make layoffs at his 350-employee company. He described how his customers, including a U.S. meal-kit company that recently completed a large order for Chinese tilapia portions, are not able to absorb the large price increases occurring as a result of the tariffs.

“And my own situation, if these large orders…dry up, we may have to lay off some people in that department. It’s the last thing I would like to do but we have to respond to this,” O’Scannlain said. “I feel like this is a self-inflicted wound on the industry and on products that we shouldn’t be doing.”

O’Scannlain said the result will be that Americans eat less seafood – the opposite of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends.

“Our own U.S. government through the Department of Agriculture recommends that we eat nearly twice as much seafood as we are currently consuming, so this tariff policy will actually lead to less consumption. It’s sort of going in opposition of another part of our government in terms of trying to get us to eat more healthy seafood products,” he said.

Through the spring and summer of 2018, the United States and China have gone back and forth in escalating the type of goods covered by tariffs of between 10 and 25 percent. In July, China imposed a 25 percent tariff on most U.S. seafood products entering its mainland. For its part, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on USD 200 billion (EUR 170 billion) of Chinese goods and, earlier in September, Trump called for an extension of U.S. tariffs to an additional USD 267 billion (EUR 230.1 billion) worth of Chinese goods.

O’Scannlain said that would be a major mistake, both for the seafood industry and for the average American consumer.

“Tariffs are an artificial increase in the cost of imported seafood. So if we dramatically increase tariffs, this will lead to less consumption of seafood in the United States,” he said. “For me, the bottom line is that tariffs on imported seafood is really a tax on the U.S. consumer, and will lead to less seafood consumption in the United States of a protein that our government really is encouraging us to eat more of.”


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