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Maine Delegation Urges USDA to Act on Pres. Trump’s Lobster Order Before Monday’s Deadline

In Letter, Federal Delegation Says Agriculture Dept. Must Act Before 60-Day Window Closes to Ensure State’s Lobster Industry Receives COVID Relief Promised by President

Washington, August 19, 2020

Washington, D.C. — With the 60-day deadline fast approaching, today Maine’s Congressional Delegation wrote to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging him to immediately act on President Trump’s June 24th memorandum to provide relief funds to the lobster industry. 

President Trump’s memo stated “the Secretary of Agriculture shall, within 60 days of the date of this memorandum, consider taking appropriate action, to the extent permitted by applicable law, to provide assistance to fisherman and producers in the U.S. lobster industry that continue to be harmed by China’s retaliatory tariffs” but the Agriculture Secretary has yet to issue rule changes based on the President’s non-binding directive. 

“We urge you to keep the President’s promise and immediately assist the thousands of Mainers whose livelihoods depend on this critical industry,” the Maine Delegation wrote. “As you know, Maine’s lobster industry has been and continues to be significantly impacted by China’s retaliatory tariffs. A few years ago, U.S. lobster exports to China were growing rapidly, reaching $128.5 million in 2017. However, this trend abruptly reversed after China imposed these tariffs in July 2018. The following year, lobster exports to China fell by nearly 50 percent. Despite making commitments to increase purchases, China bought only $25.9 million of U.S. lobster during the first half of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Read the delegation’s full letter here and a text below:

Dear Secretary Perdue,

We write regarding President Trump’s June 24 memorandum titled “Memorandum on Protecting the United States Lobster Industry.” This memorandum directed you to “consider taking appropriate action, to the extent permitted by applicable law, to provide assistance to fishermen and producers in the United States lobster industry that continue to be harmed by China’s retaliatory tariffs” within 60 days. We were encouraged by this directive, given that we urged President Trump to make lobstermen eligible for this aid more than a year ago. 

This 60-day period is now drawing to a close, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to take any further action. We urge you to keep the President’s promise and immediately assist the thousands of Mainers whose livelihoods depend on this critical industry.

As you know, Maine’s lobster industry has been and continues to be significantly impacted by China’s retaliatory tariffs. A few years ago, U.S. lobster exports to China were growing rapidly, reaching $128.5 million in 2017. However, this trend abruptly reversed after China imposed these tariffs in July 2018. The following year, lobster exports to China fell by nearly 50 percent. Despite making commitments to increase purchases, China bought only $25.9 million of U.S. lobster during the first half of 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Unlike other types of food producers who were affected by retaliatory tariffs and received prompt federal relief, Maine’s lobstermen were not eligible for the $28 billion in trade mitigation aid that USDA authorized in 2018 and 2019. With no end to these tariffs in sight and the new burden of the COVID-19 pandemic also weighing heavily on the industry, it is imperative that Maine’s lobster producers receive immediate support from the Department. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we look forward to USDA’s prompt action.

Since last June, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden have worked together to offset the financial toll President Trump’s trade war has had on the state’s seafood industry.

As a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Congresswoman Pingree successfully offered an amendment to the fiscal year 2021 funding bill directing the USDA Secretary to review President Trump’s memorandum and prioritize appropriate assistance to the lobster industry.

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