Trump turns an election-year eye on Canadian lobster

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a trade investigation to assess the impact of Canada’s worldwide lobster exports on the U.S. lobster industry.

It’s the latest election year overture aimed at Maine, where lobster, valued at $468 million US in 2019, is the state’s largest export. It is also where Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Trump are trailing in the polls.

On Aug. 24, the United States International Trade Commission announced it will investigate the possible negative effects of the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) on American lobster exports.

The investigation was requested by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The investigation will also examine tariff treatment of Canadian lobster in the United Kingdom, China and other countries.

“We’re not sure what it means,” said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.

“We’re studying it. The government of Canada is studying it. Now we’re talking to our colleagues in the U.S. and we’re trying to figure out how best to manage it from the Canadian side.”

The situation has the attention of the federal government.

“We are aware of the USITC announcement and are closely monitoring new developments,” said Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Patricia Skinner in an email statement.

Investigation follows major tariff win

The trade investigation was launched three days after the European Union eliminated an eight per cent tariff on U.S. lobster, sweeping away an advantage enjoyed by Canadian fishermen under CETA.

It was a major win for Maine’s lobster industry and for Trump, who had demanded European tariff relief two months earlier.

The Trump administration has launched a trade investigation to assess the impact of Canada’s worldwide lobster exports on the United States lobster industry. (CBC)

Neither the Trade Commission nor Lighthizer’s office would discuss the trade actions when asked by CBC News.

Maine feeling the love — this year

Trump visited Maine in June, where he held a roundtable with the fishing industry and announced he was reopening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the New England coast to commercial fishing.

Last week, a Maine lobster fisherman was a featured speaker at the Republican National Convention, where Jason Joyce praised the removal of the European tariff and Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama administration protection for the seamounts.

A one-year trade deal with China eliminated a 35 per cent tariff on U.S. lobsters imposed during a trade war between the countries.

Lobster fishermen and exporters in Nova Scotia were beneficiaries as Canadian shipments to China soared to fill the void.

The trade commission’s findings will be released in January, but not before a public hearing is held Oct. 1 — about a month before the U.S. election.

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