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Business/Economy

Alaska congressional delegation asks Trump administration to help fishermen hurt by trade war with China

The Alaska congressional delegation wants the Trump administration to help Alaska fishermen and seafood processors caught in the president’s trade war with China, saying they should be part of the roughly $15 billion aid package for farmers from the Department of Agriculture.

China is the biggest buyer of Alaska seafood but its “unjustified retaliatory" tariffs are eroding the Alaska seafood industry’s market share in that country, the Republican delegation said in a June 11 letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

In July, China slapped steep 25% on Alaska salmon, pollock, cod and other fish, boosting the overall tariff to as high as 32% on some fish species, according to the correspondence from Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young. Russian seafood, which receives a 7% tariff in China, is now snatching part of the Alaska industry’s market share.

“Concurrently, new market growth has stopped and Alaska seafood consumption has dropped,” they write. “Marketing and sales outreach continue in order to minimize lost ground, but the Alaska seafood industry cannot effectively compete in the Chinese domestic market under current conditions.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has been in a trade war with China since early last year. The delegation wants Perdue to include Alaska seafood products in the recently announced package of federal support for U.S. agricultural products affected by the trade tensions.

Before the trade war began, China bought about $1 billion a year in Alaska seafood. The fishing industry is the largest private-sector employer in the state.

Jeremy Woodrow, executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said polling shows the industry lost about $100 million of sales in China over the last six months.

“That’s a big number, and a lot of this hasn’t played out yet,” he said.

In addition, the industry may be making less for sales in China that have continued, with sale prices lowered to adjust for the tariffs.

“That translates into lower prices at the dock for fishermen,” Woodrow said. “And when fish are worth less, that negatively impacts the Alaska economy.”

The marketing group in January won a $5.5 million federal grant under an earlier aid package that primarily benefited farmers hurt by tariffs. That money has allowed ASMI to work on opening new markets in Asian countries outside China, and in South America, he said.

“It took us about 20 years to build the Chinese market,” Woodrow said. “It will take time to move away from that market and diversify our international portfolio.”

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