The Alaska seafood industry deserves a federal bailout because it’s been hit by the Trump trade war with China, the Alaska congressional delegation says, and Alaska fishermen deserve a part of the $16 billion federal subsidy for agricultural victims of the trade war.
But Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young can’t see their way to tell the truth about the role of President Donald Trump in starting the foolish trade war that has already damaged the Alaska seafood industry and threatens to do a great deal more harm.
China is the largest international buyer of Alaska seafood. Before the Trump trade war, it bought nearly $1 billion from Alaska. The loss in the last six months is about $100 million, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute estimates, a number that is expected to climb.
China is cutting tariffs on products from other nations, trying to find replacements, which mean a loss of market share for U.S. exporters, including the Alaska seafood business, and puts the U.S. at a disadvantage. China cut tariffs on fish products from other countries last fall.
“Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” as Trump likes to say.
In response to Trump’s tariffs on goods imported into the U.S., China put tariffs on some of the products it imports from the U.S., including Alaska seafood. The response was entirely predictable.
The latest tariffs from China are a “carefully calibrated response,” according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“Take farm and fish products. China has increased the duties facing U.S. exporters from an average of 21% to 42%. But it has lowered the average tariff on everyone else to 19%. With the exception of autos, aircraft and pharmaceuticals, there is now a sizable difference between the tariffs facing U.S. exporters and those facing exporters elsewhere,” the institute states.
China reduced the duty paid by Japanese salmon exporters by 3% to replace fish from the U.S.
Don’t look for anything approaching a candid explanation from Murkowski, Sullivan and Young about the damage from the Trump “easy to win” trade war.
Sullivan, who is running for re-election in 2020, never criticizes Trump. Murkowski and Young have broken the Republican vow of silence on occasion. Not this time.
The timid trio would have us believe that Alaska’s fishing industry is a victim of what they call “unjustified retaliatory retaliation,” which sounds like double-secret probation.
The Trump trade war is not Trump’s fault, the three say. It’s all China’s fault. So, Alaska fishermen need a subsidy.
Murkowski, Sullivan and Young probably know this is a two-way transaction. But if they told the truth, Trump would refuse to include Alaska seafood in the federal bailout. The delegation curries favor and promotes self-deception by parroting the Trump administration language about “unjustified retaliation and trade disruption.”
Or saying that they agree with the objectives of Trump, if not the tactics. In May, the U.S. announced plans to put a 25% tariff on Alaska fish shipped to China that is then reprocessed and shipped to the U.S.
“This unanticipated whiplash is creating tremendous uncertainty for our seafood industry in the months ahead, as they attempt to negotiate sales and contracts with the sudden looming threat of new, unforeseen duties on their products,” Sullivan, Murkowski and Young wrote in May.
“Specifically, the delegation requested the USTR (U.S. trade representative) remove salmon, Pacific cod, flatfish and rockfish from the tariff lists. In addition, they called for the inclusion of Alaska pollock imports from China because the name is a misnomer. Most of that pollock actually comes from Russia and should be subject to the 25% levy,” SeafoodSource.com reported.
Last year the delegation declared it a victory that the U.S. had not put a tariff on the reprocessed Alaska fish.
Meanwhile, China was unjustified in putting tariffs on products in response to Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods, according to the Alaska delegation. According to their logic, China should have done nothing in response to Trump.
Pollock, salmon, cod, rockfish and flatfish products are now “subject to steep tariffs for entry to the Chinese domestic market. The impacts of this retaliation are severe and worsening as time passes,” the delegation said.
“Negative consequences of retaliatory tariffs on Alaska’s seafood have amplified throughout the supply and marketing chains affecting Alaska’s coastal fishing communities and stakeholders at the local level,” the delegation said.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.