On Election Day in the US, much hangs in the balance for the seafood industry

Published on
November 3, 2020

Tuesday, 3 November is Election Day in the United States, and the results of the national election could have a significant impact on the nation's seafood industry and the global economy.

Thus far, the tenure of U.S. President Donald Trump - who is up for reelection to a second and final four-year term - has been marked by both positives and negatives for the seafood industry. The Trump administration instigated an ongoing trade war with China by placing tariffs on Chinese goods in July 2018, a move that China reciprocated by placing its own tariffs on U.S. goods – including seafood. Those tariffs had drastic impacts on certain parts of the seafood industry, such as Maine’s lobster industry, which saw an 84 percent drop in exports to China. Total estimates of the impact in 2018 found the trade war cost U.S. seafood exporters USD 350 million (EUR 299 million) that year alone.

There are some bright spots on the tariff horizon, as the Trump administration has moved forward with “phase one” of a trade deal that saw reductions in tariffs on U.S. goods.

A Biden victory won’t necessarily change much on the tariff front. Biden has said he will not agree to any new trade agreements until the U.S. makes major investments domestically – whether that means the tariffs will continue, or will be used as a bargaining chip in future negotiations, is the subject of speculation.

Other aspects of Trump’s presidency have had a positive impact for seafood. Maine lobster, which was initially hit by the trade war, got a boost as the U.S. and the European Union reached a deal that eliminated tariffs on U.S.-caught lobster in the E.U.  Those tariffs had been a concern for the U.S. lobster industry, which had been put at a disadvantage compared to its Canadian neighbors due to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Trump also signed an executive order in May that is intended to boost the competitiveness of U.S. seafood – both domestically and abroad – and that has made boosting U.S. aquaculture a priority. The new executive order has stipulations for improving regulatory transparency, identifying areas of opportunity for aquaculture, and created multiple new task forces to examine the barriers to aquaculture and domestic fishing operations.

Another executive order reopened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to fishing, and placed the area back under the control of the regional fishery management councils. Commercial fishermen had objected to the monument’s creation, and had sued – and lost – in an effort to get the monument reopened.

On the flip side, the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic has left the country with one of the highest per-capita death rates globally. Congress has done little since it passed a USD 2 trillion (EUR 1.8 trillion) package in the early phase of the crisis in March, with USD 300 million (EUR 272 million) earmarked for the seafood industry despite calls from some seafood industry leaders for more federal stimulus since September. In the battered foodservice sector, ongoing restaurant closures have the industry on the brink, and the industry has decried the lack of further federal aid

Looking forward, a Biden presidency, or a Democratic taekover of the Senate, could be positive news for seafood in the short term. Biden has promised new economic plans – including potential stimulus checks in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. An influx of money to American consumers, and businesses like restaurants, could be a benefit to seafood.

Who wins the House and Senate could also have implications for U.S. fishery regulations moving forward, as the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act approaches. U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) has been hosting town halls with stakeholders about the reauthorization, which is facing an upcoming renewal in 2022.

While by that point the entire U.S. House of Representatives would be facing a new election, Senate seats are only up for grabs every six years, meaning only one-third of the 100 U.S. senators will face reelection in 2022. Therefore, the outcome of this year's election could play a role in determining what the future of the Magnuson-Stevens Act looks like moving forward.

Photo courtesy of vestperstock/Shutterstock

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