ELLSWORTH — Maine lobstermen didn’t need Monday’s stock market collapse to know that the trade war between China and the United States is taking a heavy economic toll.
According to economic data first reported in Undercurrent News, since China imposed tariffs of 25 percent on U.S. seafood in retaliation for tariffs imposed on Chinese exports by the Trump administration, seafood imports from the United States have fallen off the table.
In the 12 months prior to June 30, 2018, China imported some $1.3 billion in seafood from the United States. In the 12 months ended this past June 30 imports totaled just $969 million.
American lobster exports bore the brunt of that decline, from some $176 million in the 12 months ended June 30, 2018, to $25 million in the fiscal year just ended — an 86 percent drop.
An “end around” is compensating for some of that decline. Over the same period, Canadian live lobster exports to China have grown exponentially.
In May 2018, live lobster exports from the United States to China reached roughly 1.3 million pounds while Canadian lobster exports to China reached some 2.6 million pounds. At least some of those lobsters are believed to have been given a Canadian Lobster label after traveling to Canada from Maine to avoid the tariffs.
Several Maine lobster dealers have taken steps to avail themselves of the Canadian export advantage.
Last year, Ready Seafood of Portland acquired a family-owned Nova Scotia-based lobster holding, processing and shipping facility that can both import Maine lobster and give the company access to Canadian-caught product.
In 2001, Garbo Lobster, a subsidiary of the giant East Coast Seafood and one of the biggest lobster buyers in Maine, bought and developed lobster holding and processing facilities in Hancock and in Nova Scotia. In 2012, the partnership acquired the former Stinson sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor, where it now operates Maine Fair Trade Lobster.
In May of this year, China imported just over 7,700 pounds of live lobster from the United States, but Canadian exports topped 3.8 million pounds.
Figures released by the Maine International Trade Center in May show that, overall, Maine’s overall exports to China dropped 51 percent in the 11 months since China established its first round of tariffs in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.
Wood pulp exports dropped some 51 percent. Industrial machinery exports dropped almost 58 percent.
Exports of lobster and other seafood to China declined just under 84 percent.
Whether Maine lobster exports to China will ever return to former levels, let alone expand, is an open question.
Last week, the Trump administration announced that it would impose new 10 percent tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese goods, beginning Sept. 1. China this week allowed the value of its currency to fall below a historical benchmark for the first time in 11 years, signaling no end in sight for the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.