Seafood groups fear retaliation if tariffs placed on Chinese imports

Published on
May 18, 2018

As trade discussions continue between China and the United States, there is a debate brewing whether the United States should place a 25 percent tariff on seafood imports from the world’s most populous country.

Supporters of the move, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), say it would provide a much-needed boost to domestic producers, and it would also protect American consumers from buying products they say either are fraudulent or do not match standards U.S. processors must meet.

However, in the past few weeks, other voices have emerged. Letters to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office show there are at least segments of the American seafood industry that see China as a valuable market. They fear slapping tariffs on Chinese shrimp and other products could harm them significantly as China would likely respond with similar measures.

In a six-page letter to the USTR, National Fisheries Institute President John Connelly said adding tariffs now would cause American exporters to lose access to a market that accounts for nearly a quarter of the seafood products shipped globally. Those hurt the most would be Alaska fishermen, Maine lobstermen and fishmeal producers, he said.

“China’s importance as an export destination for U.S. fish now and in the foreseeable future contrasts with other large Pacific Rim seafood markets that are far less promising,” Connelly said. “Japan is a seafood export mainstay, but new openings there were lost with the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

The At-Sea Processors Association urged government officials not to drag seafood into a debate that has been largely focused on technology issues. Instead, Stephanie Madsen, the group’s executive director, wants the United States to work on an agreement that lowers existing duties China places on U.S. products.

“It would be a tremendous boost to U.S. seafood exporters for our products to be more affordable for Chinese consumers and more competitively priced with products generated by low-cost seafood producers from other countries who operate under much less rigorous environmental and labor standards,” she said.

Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, echoed those comments, adding that if the United States loses market share, that Chinese demand would be absorbed by other countries.

“Once market access is lost, it is exceedingly difficult to regain, and Alaska’s fishing and processing communities would be relegated to less profitable markets,” he said. “The commercial fishing and seafood industries significantly drive Alaska’s economy, generating sustainable economies, employment, and quality of life for tens of thousands of our citizens, and we must not risk these benefits in addressing unrelated issues.”

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