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Business and Economy

China Lowers Lobster Tariff, While Coronavirus Roils U.S. and Canada Lobster Markets

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AP File

China is slightly lowering tariffs on U.S. lobster, but industry observers say it is not enough to reboot Maine's languishing sales to that country. At the same time, the outbreak of coronavirus in China is hurting lobster sales abroad and domestic markets as well.

Over the last 18 months, China ramped up tariffs on U.S. lobster to 42 percent, which all but killed what had been growing exports from Maine to that country. Then last month President Trump's administration negotiated a new trade deal that included a Chinese commitment to buy more U.S. lobster.

But whether China would significantly reduce the tariff was an open question. Now, China says it will reduce its lobster tariff by 5 percent.

"A five percent reduction in the tariff schedule is an insignificant change for the lobster industry in the United States," says Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association.

"We are trying to get a better sense for a variety of ministries within the People's Republic Of China as to how this is going to evolve. We are hopeful that we will at some point see some things more advantageous for the lobster industry and other U.S. food producers to be able to recapture part of that market."

Canadian lobster dealers have seen exports to China increase, because Canada-caught lobsters are not subject to the punitive tariffs. But the emergence of the coronavirus in China has limited Canada's sales there as well. The result: Canada is selling more lobsters into the U.S. market, which can depress prices Maine lobstermen get at the dock.