PORTLAND, MAINE - A set of retaliatory tariffs released by China on Friday includes a plan to tax American lobster exports, potentially jeopardizing one of the biggest markets for the premium seafood.
Chinese officials announced the planned lobster tariff along with hundreds of other tariffs amid the country's escalating trade fight with the United States. China said it wants to place new duties on items such as farm products, autos and seafood starting July 6.
The announcement could have major ramifications for the U.S. seafood industry and for the economy of the state of Maine, which is home to most of the country's lobster fishery. China's interest in U.S. lobster has grown exponentially in recent years, and selling to China has become a major focus of the lobster industry.
"Hopefully cooler heads can prevail and we can get a solution,'' said Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. "It's a year-round customer in China. This isn't good news at all.''
A Chinese government website on Friday posted a list of seafood products that will be subject to the tariffs, and it included live, fresh and frozen lobster. The website stated that the items would be taxed at 25 percent.
The announcement came in response to President Donald Trump's own increase in tariffs on Chinese imports in America. The Republican president announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday.
The news raised alarms around the Maine lobster industry, as China's an emerging market for U.S. lobster, which has gained popularity with the growing middle class. Maine lobster was worth more than $430 million at the docks last year, and the industry is a critical piece of the state's economy, history and heritage.
The U.S. isn't the only country in the lobster trade. Canada also harvests the same species of lobster and is a major trading partner with China.
"Anything that affects the supply chain is obviously not a great thing,'' said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. "The lobstermen obviously are concerned with trade and where they go.''
The value of China's American lobster imports grew from $108.3 million in 2016 to $142.4 million last year. The country barely imported any American lobster a decade ago.
China and the U.S. are major seafood trading partners beyond just lobster, and the new tariffs would apply to dozens of products that China imports from the U.S., including salmon, tuna and crab. 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.