PORTLAND, ME – The United States trade representative is hoping to broker a deal with the European Union to send more lobsters to Europe, but has received a chilly reception so far.
The American lobster industry is in the midst of a challenging time in part because of tariffs with China and the EU. U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer has asked EU officials to consider reducing tariffs on lobster, which is a popular seafood item in many European nations, especially around Christmas.
A letter from EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström dated Nov. 6 said the European Union could potentially be interested in a broader trade package. However, Malmström balked at the idea of quickly approving a limited package of tariff cuts.
Such a deal should be “part of a wider agreement to liberalize tariffs bilaterally for industries products, including fisheries,” Malmström wrote.
Neither Lighthizer nor Malmström responded to requests for comment.
Lighthizer’s attempt to roll back tariffs is coming as American lobster exports to Europe are falling. Canada, which exports the same species of lobster to Europe, brokered a new trade deal with the EU in 2017 that puts the U.S. at a disadvantage.
Exports to France, valued at nearly $36 million in 2013, fell to less than $13 million last year. U.S. exports to China have also cratered due to trade hostilities between the two countries. And the American lobster fishery, based in Maine, is currently in the midst of a slower season than it has been accustomed to this decade, leading to some anxiety in the industry.
Three members of the Maine congressional delegation sent a letter to Lighthizer on Thursday encouraging him to keep pushing for the elimination of the lobster tariff, which is 8% on live lobsters. The members, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King, wrote that “Maine lobster producers and dealers must find new customers for our state’s most iconic product.”
Jeff Bennett, the senior trade specialist at Maine International Trade Center, said he’s not surprised the EU isn’t on board with a new tariff deal solely based on lobsters.
“The EU has generally taken a broader approach than ‘one off’ or ‘stand-alone’ type agreements,” Bennett said.