Lobstering has served as an economic engine and a family tradition in Maine for generations, helping to support the livelihoods of thousands of families in our state through fishing, processing, and shipping. Approximately 150 million pounds of lobster are caught each year in U.S. waters at a value of more than $500 million, representing one of our country’s most valuable catches.
Here in Maine, our lobster industry leads the country by landing more than 80 percent of the national catch. In addition to the 4,500 state licensed lobstermen, another 10,000 Mainers work directly within the industry with skills, knowledge, and a strong respect for conservation that have been passed down for generations. These owner-operated small businesses sustain coastal communities, help to preserve our working waterfronts, and have an economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion each year.
A significant part of the American lobster industry’s economic impact comes from overseas trade – nearly $200 million to the European Union and more than $137 million to China in 2017 alone. These important partnerships are now threatened by a new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and by a retaliatory tariff imposed by China on American lobsters.
In June, the entire Maine Delegation hosted a meeting between top U.S. Trade Representative officials and members of the Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association to discuss the impact of federal trade policies on our state’s lobster industry. Since that visit, which focused on the Canada-EU agreement and what at the time were potential retaliatory tariffs, the situation for the lobster industry has worsened with the imposition of the new tariff by China.
On July 26, I raised these concerns at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, our country’s top trade negotiator. As a result of the efforts by the Maine delegation, he assured me that his agency is working on these issues and that he believes there may be some positive news on the horizon.
The Canada-EU agreement puts American lobster exporters at a serious disadvantage because, unlike the Canadians, our exporters face tariffs of between 8 and 30 percent to sell into the European Union, which until recently was a very strong market accounting for approximately 15 to 20 percent of annual American lobster exports. I was encouraged to hear Ambassador Lighthizer say that the agreement is now part of ongoing trade talks with the EU.
Over the past three years, exports of Maine lobsters to China have nearly tripled; however, Maine’s access to this important market was adversely affected in July when China levied an additional 25 percent tariff on lobster in response to trade actions taken by the Trump Administration. China is admittedly a very bad actor when it comes to trade, but, as I told Ambassador Lighthizer, we have to be sure the corrective actions we take do not end up hurting our own domestic producers. I raised the concerns many members of our lobster industry have expressed to me by asking the Ambassador how they can survive while the Administration works out a long-term plan to address the many serious trade issues we have with China.
Ambassador Lighthizer emphasized that there is no international legal justification for China taking these actions, and that the United States has brought a World Trade Organization action against China. This action, he said, will focus not only on the damaging lobster tariff, but also on all American industries harmed by China’s unfair trade practices.
Lobsters are an economic force in coastal Maine communities and have supported the livelihoods of generations of lobstermen, processors, and dealers. In addition, this shellfish has become a Maine icon, with an international reputation that plays an important role in attracting millions of visitors to our state annually.
In order to support the thousands of Mainers working day-in and day-out to harvest, prepare, and ship our state’s prized catch, I will continue to press the Administration and seek legislative solutions to expand access to markets and to provide relief for this vital industry.