In 2018, China imposed a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on US lobster, as a response to the Trump Administration’s trade war. Up until then, the seafood-hungry Chinese had been importing ever greater amounts of U.S., particularly Maine, lobster, hitting 14 million pounds, worth $128 million in 2017.

But the trade war led to a 64 percent drop in US lobster exports to China, and efforts to restore that trade have yet to bear fruit.

In January 2020 the Biden administration signed a deal with China, in which the Asian powerhouse committed to buying $500 billion in U.S. products, including lobster. But so far China has met about half that commitment, and Maine’s legislative delegation wants to know why.

In February, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, as well as Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, both D-Maine, sought answers from the U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai.

At the Capitol in June, Collins followed up, urging the Tai to stimulate the lobster trade.

“According to reports, China purchased only $289 billion worth of exports, nowhere near the $500 billion figure that was committed to,” Collins said to Tai at a June 22 meeting of a Commerce Appropriations subcommittee.

“Now what's frustrating to me is I raised this exact issue with you when you appeared before this subcommittee last April,” said Collins. “Then in February of this year, I sent you a letter asking you to hold China accountable for the purchase commitments it made under the Phase One trade agreement.”

Tai acknowledged China’s failure to abide by the 2020 agreement and ongoing negotiations.

“What we have seen, however, through these conversations, is that that has not been enough to motivate China to make good on these purchase commitments in particular,” she responded to Collins. “That is what is leading us to conclude that it is time to turn the page on the old playbook. We do need to enforce our rights with respect to China. And we do need to defend the interests of our entire economy, including our lobster people, lobster men and lobster women, our manufacturers, our workers, our ranchers, our producers.

"And I feel very strongly that we need to take a new and more comprehensive look at enforcing those rights and defending those interests with respect to China and that is what we are doing right now at USTR.”

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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