So has President Donald Trump and his administration been good for the US seafood industry?
That is not a simple question to answer, but let me toss out some thoughts and we'll see where we end up.
Let’s first list what many in the industry
likely consider Trump’s obvious seafood victories.
Lobster: In August, the Trump administration delivered Maine lobstermen a win they have been wanting for many years when it struck a new trade deal with the EU that eliminates a long-standing 8 percent tariff on US live lobster exports and an up-to-20-percent tariff on processed US lobster exports to EU member states.
The deal, it is hoped, will put US-caught lobster exports on an even playing field with Canada, which in 2016 singed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with the EU that eliminated tariffs on lobster and other seafood imported from Canada. Since the signing of the CETA deal, US lobster exports to the EU have fallen from 9,286 metric tons in 2016 to 3,341 metric tons in 2019.
But the new trade deal between the United States and the EU is tempered by the fact that negotiations were already ongoing when the president took office but were sent off course by his "America First" anti-free trade rhetoric and actions early in his term. So, it reflects a broader Trump approach of break it first, then take credit when you put it back together.
While the new deal offers promise for US exporters, there is still lots of work that needs to be done to rebuild those markets that were crushed and have largely been handed to Canada.
Pebble Mine: The fight to stop the development of Pebble Mine, a large-scale copper and gold mining project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest wild salmon run, has been going on for nearly two decades.
Under the Obama Administration, it appeared plans to build the mine had finally been dashed, but in July 2019 the Trump administration removed Obama-era water pollution limitations that were completed in 2014, clearing the way for the project to proceed.
The administration in August abruptly reversed it position by delaying a key permit for the mine. The reversal came just weeks after Trump reiterated his support for the project. His mind appeared to change only after his son, Donald Trump Jr., spoke out against the mine, saying it threatened the unique habitat of Bristol Bay.
Aquaculture: The President scored points in May when he signed an executive order that, among other things, aims to boost the domestic seafood industry by streamlining aquaculture development offshore, a pipe dream of the industry for decades.
The move is consistent with a Trump 2017 proclamation regarding ocean priorities that called out the need to develop the country’s offshore areas.
But an executive order is not policy. It is intent to do something. Congress still has to promulgate policy such as the AQUAA Act or other such measures, which have been circulating in the halls of Congress for more than a decade. So, there is still plenty to do to make the executive order’s goal materialize, but the focus on development of the sector is considered a win by many in the industry.
OK, it’s time for what many
consider Trump’s seafood failures
China trade war: Few actions by Trump have upset the status quo of seafood trade more than his trade war with China. Seafood became a victim of Trump’s war with China over a host of non-seafood-related trade issues.
The back-and-forth, tit-for-tat infliction of retaliatory trade tariffs forced US seafood producers to spend incredible time, money and effort shielding themselves from the tariffs’ impacts. But no sector of the industry truly escaped the tumult of the trade war. He used seafood and other exports to stand up to China, but in so doing caused seafood firms money, markets and time.
Just as with Trump's handling of the EU trade negotiations mentioned above, the lobster industry was one of many seafood sectors damaged by the China trade war. Exports of lobster to China from the United States fell from 8,635 metric tons in 2018 to 2,852 metric tons in 2019.
Trade is the lifeblood of the US seafood industry, and overall it is safe to argue that Trump has been unnecessarily disruptive to the trade flow of seafood and the companies that rely on seafood trade stability both from export and import perspectives.
Climate Change: While the true impact of Trump’s deregulation actions aimed at undermining work to counter climate change won’t likely be known for some time, he needs to be held accountable for not only his denial of climate change but his efforts to exacerbate its impact on the planet.
He dramatically withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, through which 195 nations set out plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Brookings Institution counts 74 actions to date by the Trump administration to weaken environmental protection. And many of these measures are designed to boost fossil fuel production and use, which runs counter to decades of effort to do the opposite.
Again, the long-term impact of these efforts can’t be known at the moment, but a planet that is uninhabitable certainly trumps any short-term good the administration might have provided. It’s hard to not use this as the defining acid test of Trump’s seafood legacy. Nothing works in seafood if the oceans, air and land cannot not support life.
Covid: The coronavirus has upended the world, and the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight as we sit here today. Seafood companies have lost millions in business because of the virtual shutdown of the global restaurant sector, and many might not survive. Companies have also spent millions to comply with guidelines designed to protect workers and stem the flow of the contagion.
Trump’s extremely poor handling of the US response to the pandemic and his at times downright dismissal of its importance has left the nation rudderless from a federal government perspective and has contributed not only to the nearly 180,000 deaths (nearly 6,000 percent more than the number of people who died on 9/11) but to the protracted damage the US economy and disruption in global seafood production and trade.
Evaluating Trump in this hyper-polarized time is not easy, and any verdict that is reached is likely to attract a strong reaction from his fans and his foes.
But when measuring Trump’s impact on the seafood sector specifically, it is, of course, critical to look at his past and present actions, but it is also vital to think of the future should he be re-elected and ask yourself if you are ready for four more years of a Trump presidency.
Any comments, complaints, retaliatory rants, please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org