New Tariffs From China Could Hit Maine's Lobster Industry Hard

Jul 6, 2018

Maine businesses are largely unscathed by the new tariffs China is imposing on U.S. products. But there's one big exception – lobster.

Wade Merritt, the president of the Maine International Trade Center, says early salvos in the developing trade war between the U.S. and China didn't seem too bad. But the tariffs China just announced came on like a summer thunderstorm, and they will hit about one-quarter of all of Maine's exports abroad.

"Unfortunately that 25 percent is 99 percent lobster,” says Merritt. “I think we had some hopes this might change. The industry has been working hard with the congressional delegation and others to see if we might find ways to mitigate this or head this off, but unfortunately we're where we are today."

Annie Tselikis is executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association. She says when combined with recent decisions by the European Union to lower tariffs on lobster from Canada, the move by China is putting Maine's industry at a significant competitive disadvantage. 

"But this industry has gone through challenges before, and we've handled everything from 9-11 to a housing bubble burst in 2008 and this industry is resilient," Tselikis says, "but this does present a pretty drastic challenge at a really challenging time of year."

Last year, China bought $57 million worth of frozen and live lobster. The latest tariffs, added to existing ones, bring the total tariff on frozen lobster harvested in the U.S. to 35 percent, and to 40 percent on live lobster. Canada, by contrast, recently saw tariffs on its lobster sales to China reduced to 7 percent.