Collateral damage

As reported on this week’s Maritime page, a Stonington-based lobster buyer and shipper is building a good-sized processing plant in Bucksport. That operation will create many new jobs in a town that could use such a boost.

Greenhead Lobster owner Hugh Reynolds is expanding the processing side of the business, which should be up and running by June.

The good news for Bucksport is tempered by the sobering report from Reynolds and other Maine exporters that the federal government’s commitment to tariffs is costing them business. Reciprocal tariffs on U.S. exports — lobsters among them — are sending Chinese and European buyers to other suppliers.

The appetite abroad for lobsters remains strong. Unfortunately for our live lobster dealers, that appetite is being met by Canadian exporters working under a less aggressive tariff policy.

Reynolds reports his export business being “off 70 to 80 percent this winter.” Citing the U.S. tariff structure, Reynolds observed that he’s “definitely collateral damage of the trade wars.”

The early analysis is that our tariffs on Chinese goods are chipping away at the trade deficit. A report from the Institute of International Finance detects a slowing of the rate of tariffed exports from China. And if that was where the story ended, we could claim an early victory in the tariff wars. But China’s reciprocal tariffs on American goods are undermining U.S. exports. And China is buying its lobsters from Canada where there is no 25 percent import tariff.

The story is the same all along the Maine coast. It’s especially painful this month — the Chinese Lunar New Year is traditionally the best time of year for Maine exporters. Our neighbors to the north are now supplying the party fare.

Analysts following China trade issues for the Maine International Trade Center say the industry is aggressively seeking new markets for Maine lobster. But replacing the loss of Chinese markets is daunting.

Greenhead Lobster’s experience, along with the experience of Maine lobster exporters all down the coast, is an example of collateral damage and an illustration of the African proverb: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”

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