US moves to protect lobster industry, threatens tariffs on China

An employee picks up a lobster at Ipswich Shellfish in Massachusetts, on March 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump signed a memorandum aimed at protecting American lobster fishermen who have found export markets drying up, a White House adviser dubbed the "lobster king" said on Wednesday (June 24), adding China could face new tariffs.

"If those purchase commitments are not met, the United States Trade Representative has been directed to use his discretion to impose... reciprocal tariffs on the China seafood industry," trade adviser Peter Navarro told reporters. He was referring to US$150 million (S$209 million) in purchase commitments Beijing made under the so-called Phase 1 US-China trade deal.

In the memorandum, Trump also directed the US Agriculture Department to provide lobster fishermen with the same type of assistance other parts of the agriculture sector are receiving to protect them from harmful trade practices, Navarro said.

Senator Angus King of Maine welcomed the decision and said it would make a huge difference for Maine lobstermen who had been hurt doubly by Chinese tariffs imposed in 2018 and the collapse of sales to restaurants during the coronavirus lockdowns.

"This is definitely good news," he told Reuters. "The timing is good. This has been a tough summer for our lobstermen." The US Trade Representative's office and the Maine Lobstermen's Association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump earlier this month called Navarro the "lobster king" at a Maine event, threatening to impose tariffs on European Union cars if the bloc did not drop its tariff on American lobsters.

US lawmakers from Maine have repeatedly called for aid for the lobster industry, which supports the livelihood of 4,500 state-licensed lobstermen and an additional 10,000 people, generating about US$1.5 billion in economic impact each year.

Navarro said the memorandum also called on the USTR to develop recommendations over the next 90 days on how to address a loss of market share American lobster fishermen have faced due to a Canada-Europe trade agreement.

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