ELLSWORTH — Whatever one thinks of the political scene in Washington, Tuesday’s announcement that the Trump Administration would impose new tariffs on some $200 billion worth of Chinese imports had to come as bad news to Maine’s lobster industry.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that China’s government said it would respond if those tariffs were imposed.
Maine lobstermen were already facing tougher export market conditions.
Last month, China announced that it would impose a 25 percent tariff on Maine lobster and lobster products, effective July 7. A 20 percent tariff was scheduled to expire June 30.
Any additional tariffs could put a real crimp in Maine’s lobster exports, already suffering from the effects of last winter’s Canadian-European Union comprehensive free trade agreement that reduced EU tariffs on Canadian lobster to zero. Tariffs on lobsters from the United States — Maine — are about 7 percent.
According to the Maine Lobster Dealers Association, the value of Maine’s lobster export business has increased exponentially over the past decade. In 2006, lobster exports to China totaled just over $700,000. Last year, the China trade in lobsters was worth just under $127 million.
Other members of the broader lobster industry, beyond dealers, are feeling the effects of U.S. trade policy.
Most lobster traps are built from steel wire that is first stretched, welded into a grid and then galvanized before being formed into a finished product.
With a 25 percent tariff on steel imported from Canada and elsewhere, lobster trap builders are feeling the pinch. According to some reports, the cost of steel wire has nearly doubled since late last year. That means lobstermen will have to pay more for their traps, with no compensating increase in the price of lobsters, or trap builders will have to eat the additional cost and see their profits go down.