New Chinese tariff will hit Alaska seafood exporters

A trade war heating up between the Trump administration and China is expected to prove costly for exporters of Alaska’s wild salmon and groundfish, from Alaska Pollock and Pacific cod to Atka mackerel, sole and Pacific Ocean Perch.

The People’s Republic of China has announced that effective July 6 they will impose a 25 percent tariff on 545 American imports, including wild seafood, the bulk of which is harvested in Alaska. China’s decision came in retaliation for a Trump administration announcement to impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of imports from China.

The White House responded to China’s announcement by announcing on June 18 that if China does impose import tariffs the United States would impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of goods imported from China.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was very concerned about the impact of China’s tariffs on American seafood would have on Alaska’s economy.

“In 2017 alone, Alaskan seafood exports were worth $3.45 billion, and of that, nearly $1 billion was exported to China,” she said. “It’s imperative that our seafood industry, one of the economic drivers of our state, has the ability to continue competitively exporting their products all over the world.”

Murkowski said she was urging President Donald Trump to work towards a trade policy with China “that protects these critical markets for our seafood industry.”

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, also expressed concern.

“Commercial fisheries help sustain remote coastal communities and create thousands of jobs in the state which generates billions of dollars for both local and national economies,” he said. “The success of this industry allows Alaska to be a leader in global markets.”

Young said that in May the Alaska delegation sent a letter to Trump urging him to exempt Alaska’s seafood from the ongoing trade negotiations with China.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who recently returned from leading an Alaska trade mission to China, said that he planned to be in Washington D.C. the week of June 25 “to meet with leaders from both governments who have been at the table leading the efforts to avoid an unnecessary trade war.”

“This is a huge deal,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group, a Juneau based research and consulting services firm whose expertise includes seafood.

“China is our most important trading partner. A lot of seafood harvested in Alaska is reprocessed and distributed globally.”

From the Bristol Bay fishery, which is just gearing up for what is expected to be another strong fishery, all the headed and gutted fish frozen in the bay are shipped over there,

he said. There are also a lot of Amendment 80 species that go to China for reprocessing, he said.

Still, with these types of announcements and tariffs, there is a lot of diplomacy happening behind the scenes that we are not aware of, Evridge said.

“As a rule, because we are reliant on exports, we are sensitive to maintaining our export markets, and anything restricting those markets is something the Alaska seafood industry will watch closely, but in terms of actual economic impact, it is too early to say,” he said.

Alexa Tonkovich, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, issued a statement expressing ASMI’s disappointment with China’s decision. She said ASMI is working with other U.S. seafood industry trade groups and its own China office to evaluate the situation.  ASMI has been active in Chinese markets for over 20 years.

The National Fisheries Institute said in a statement from its Washington D.C. headquarters that NFI is reviewing China’s announcement to determine its impact on U.S. seafood exports.

“We are deeply disappointed in these retaliatory tariffs,” said John Connelly, president of NFI. “There is no connection between the products targeted by the U.S. and the tariffs Beijing plans to impose on exported American seafood. It is not clear where these trade actions will ultimately lead; what is clear is that they will negatively impact American seafood jobs.”

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.