CRUSTACEANS SENT TO CHINA. Live lobsters are packed for
overseas shipment at the Maine Lobster Outlet in York, Maine, in
this file photo. China’s hunger for American lobsters is helping
keep prices high for U.S. consumers, but a tariff on the seafood
does not appear imminent. Federal stats say China imported a
record of more than 17.8 million pounds of lobster from America
in 2017, eclipsing the previous record of about 14 million
pounds in 2016. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
From The Asian Reporter, V28, #7 (April 2, 2018), page
China’s lobster imports keep U.S. price high,
but no tariffs
By Patrick Whittle
The Associated Press
BIDDEFORD, Maine — China’s hunger for American lobsters is
helping keep prices high to U.S. consumers, but a tariff on the
seafood does not appear imminent.
The Asian country imported more than 17.8 million pounds of
lobster from America in 2017, eclipsing the previous record of
about 14 million pounds in 2016, federal statistics state. The
value of the imports also surged from $108.3 million in 2016 to
$142.4 million last year, according to data from the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
China’s growing interest in the premium U.S. seafood item is
happening just as the Trump administration is engaging in a
trade battle with the country. China has targeted dozens of U.S.
products for new tariffs, including some food items such as nuts
and pork, but lobsters aren’t on the list.
The increased imports are also happening just as American
fishermen might be starting to slip in volume of catch.
Fishermen in Maine, the biggest lobster fishing state, saw catch
fall from 132.5 million pounds to 110.8 million pounds last
Prices have been high to consumers at home, with lobsters
fetching more than $12 per pound in some New England markets.
More exports to Asia coupled with smaller catches could keep
those prices up, said Bill Bruns, operations manager with
Lobster Company of Arundel, Maine, a lobster exporter.
"It’s commodity based. You raise the price. It wouldn’t be
any different with apples, oranges, or pickles," Bruns said.
"But if it’s too expensive, nobody wants it."
Chinese lobster imports from the U.S. began surging in 2011,
when they exceeded a million pounds for the first time. The
value of America’s lobster exports to China have also ballooned
in that time, increasing by a factor of almost 20 since 2010.
Exports to Hong Kong, which are tallied separately, have also
increased, though they plateaued at around $50 million around
2013 and have stayed there since.
The growth is happening against the backdrop of a strained
relationship between the world’s two largest economies. The
Trump administration announced it would impose tariffs on $60
billion of Chinese goods. China then announced its own new
tariffs on everything from American aluminum scrap to dried
The value of China’s lobster imports is likely to fluctuate,
but the sheer volume of the crustaceans that the country is
taking from the U.S. shows interest is at an all-time high, said
John Sackton, a market analyst who publishes the SeafoodNews.com
"What that shows is the expansion of lobster sales in China
is continuing to grow very rapidly," he said.
Industry members have tied the growth of lobster exports to
China to the expanding middle class in the country. Exports have
also increased in recent years to other Asian countries, such as
Thailand, which imported its largest total in history last year
at more than 675,000 pounds. The country imported less than
50,000 pounds in 2010.
South Korea imported less than 700,000 pounds of American
lobster in 2010 and more than 2.4 million pounds last year.
Vietnam imported almost nothing in 2010 and took more than 4
million pounds last year.