Tariff talks have leaders in key seafood states divided

Published on
July 26, 2018

Talk of tariffs subsided a bit Wednesday, 25 July, after U.S. President Donald Trump reached an agreement with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to hold off on levying new taxes on imports and work together on trade.

“The United States and the European Union together count more than 830 million citizens and more than 50 percent of global GDP,” the joint U.S.-EU statement read. “If we team up, we can make our planet a better, more secure, and more prosperous place.”

However, while the U.S. and Europe have appeared to reach a trade truce, it still leaves uncertainty about America’s relationship with Asian nations, China in particular.

Perhaps no industry is more divided over tariffs than the U.S. seafood industry. For example, leaders in two of the top seafood producing states see the impact of tariffs differently.

According to a study by The McDowell Group, Alaska exports more than 1 million metric tons of seafood annually, which brings in more than USD 3 billion (EUR 2.6 billion) from more than 100 countries. That means about two-thirds of the seafood produced by Alaskans is sold abroad.

That’s why when news of the U.S. Department of Agriculture offering USD 12 billion (EUR 10.3 billion) in aid for farmers hurt by tariffs broke, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) spoke out, wondering if other affected industries would get help as well.

“The administration’s announcement of [USD] 12 billion in aid is an admission that tariffs are hurting, not helping, our country,” she said in a statement to SeafoodSource. “Yet, farmers are hardly the only ones caught in the crossfire  so, too, are our fishermen, the energy industry, and many others. I urge the President to take a broader view of the impacts his trade policy is having and recognize that trade assistance is no substitute for trade itself.”

Bill Walker, Alaska’s Republican governor, also has been working with Washington leaders. Austin Baird, Walker’s press secretary, told SeafoodSource that the governor has advocated for seafood industry businesses to receive aid to mitigate any losses they suffer from the new tariffs. 

However, that’s not the limit of his work.

“More importantly, though, the Governor continues to urge leaders in Washington to work toward agreements that will increase trade,” Baird said. “Alaska’s vast natural resources provide an opportunity to massively reduce the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, and making that happen should be the fundamental goal of U.S. trade policy.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. imports the vast majority  estimated at around 90 percent  of the seafood it sells. The leading product imported is shrimp, which is also a major piece of the fisheries in the southeastern United States. Lawmakers there were the ones pushing hard for the inclusion of shrimp in the Seafood Import Monitoring Program, and when Trump started talking about raising fees on foreign products, many wanted shrimp and seafood imports included in those hikes.

The latest call came earlier this week from Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who wants a 10-cent (EUR .09) per pound inspection fee levied on all foreign seafood entering the United States. Nungesser said in a press release that the limited ability to inspect imports puts American fishermen at a disadvantage. It especially hurts Louisiana, which is the leading seafood producer in the continental United States.

“For generations, Louisianans have developed a culture and economy surrounding our seafood industry,” he said. “We are especially proud of our shrimp harvested directly from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico; however, the entire seafood industry has been in severe decline over the last decade due to unfairly imported seafood.”

Nungesser is pushing for his state’s Congressional delegation to support his plan.

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