Maine's members of Congress are urging President Donald Trump's administration not to place tariffs on seafood imports from China because they fear such a move would jeopardize the state's valuable lobster industry.
Maine's Congressional delegation of independent Sen. Angus King, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin sent a letter to Trump on the subject Thursday. The lawmakers said they are concerned the Chinese would retaliate with a similar tariff on U.S. seafood exports.
That could be devastating to Maine's lobster industry, which is the largest in the country and sends millions of dollars in lobsters to China, a growing market for the seafood, they said.
The lawmakers' letter referenced a proposal from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to place a tariff on some Chinese imports as a way of remedying inadequate intellectual property rights enforcement in the Asian country. The initial proposal did not include seafood, but the Maine lawmakers said they remain concerned it could be included when the proposal is finalized.
"Targeting Chinese seafood exports to the United States is likely to convince China to protect its domestic seafood producers by retaliating with similar tariffs against U.S. seafood exports — including Maine lobster — to China," the delegation wrote, adding that "overseas markets are essential" to the health of the industry.
China and the U.S. are major seafood trading partners. The U.S. imported more than $2.7 billion in Chinese seafood last year, and the U.S. exported more than $1.3 billion to China.
China is also an emerging market for U.S. lobster, which has gained popularity there with the growth of the middle class. The value of China's American lobster imports grew from $108.3 million in 2016 to $142.4 million last year.
The Maine delegation's letter shows that "Mainers understand that trade is a two-way street" and "U.S. exports to China can be as important as U.S. imports from China," said Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the McLean, Virginia-based National Fisheries Institute.
"Sounding the alarm here is not simply about lobsters, it's about growth, revenue and jobs in Maine," he said.