US lobster industry hopes new deal renews trade with China

American lobster exporters could take back access to China

One group that is cautiously optimistic about the trade deal signed Wednesday between the U.S. and China is the lobster industry.

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The hope is that the deal will reopen one of the biggest markets in the world for lobsters.

China is one of the biggest export destinations for lobster, which are trapped in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean by American and Canadian fishermen.

Their haul is worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

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But President Donald Trump's trade hostilities with China resulted in heavy tariffs on U.S. lobster exports, and Canada took firm control of the business over the last 18 months.

A cooked lobster is served on a picnic table at McLoon's Lobster Shack in Spruce Head, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) (AP)

Trump and Chinese officials announced a new trade agreement Wednesday that could change all that.

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The agreement includes purchase deals that formalize China's commitment to buy more American goods in some sectors, said Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Lobster is highlighted in the agricultural purchase agreement, the Maine senator added.

That clears a path for American lobster exporters to take back access to China, a market that had been growing for years, said Annie Tselikis, executive director of Maine Lobster Dealers’ Association.

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American lobster exports to China cratered last year, dropping to less than $47 million through November. The exports were worth more than $138 million in 2018 through the same month. The collapse of the export market followed years of heavy growth spurred in part by the expanding Chinese middle class.

Lobster are seen at the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The U.S. lobster industry benefited from the growth of the Chinese market prior to the trade hostilities because fishermen are in the midst of a multi-year boom in lobster hauls.

China emerged as a new trade partner in a time when lobstermen were catching more of the crustaceans than ever, and that served to help buoy prices for the seafood.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the new agreement “will provide lobstermen and women a more level playing field” and more stable access to China. But Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said it remains to be seen just how much the new pact will benefit U.S. seafood.

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“One thing we can say is right now it's a serious deescalation and it's possible we'll see some relief in seafood,” Lovely said. “And that's a good thing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.