As China-U.S. trade conflict continues, Alaska seafood industry group plans to grow marketing elsewhere

The state’s seafood industry group is set to expand its marketing efforts abroad with the help of a new federal program as the U.S.-China trade conflict continues to ripple through the sector here.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded about $7.5 million to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute this year through an agricultural trade program developed in 2018. The program aims to help U.S. agricultural exporters develop new markets and also “mitigate the adverse effects of other countries’ tariff and non-tariff barriers,” according to the USDA.

That money is “basically relief funds in reaction to the ongoing trade conflict with China,” said ASMI executive director Jeremy Woodrow.

The trade battle between the U.S. and China started early last year, when President Donald Trump’s administration announced its first tariffs on some Chinese goods. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping have since gone back and forth, announcing plans for more and more tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of goods from the other’s country.

That’s significant for Alaska, as China is the biggest market for this state’s seafood exports. Some seafood harvested here also goes to China for reprocessing before it is imported back to the U.S.

Trade tensions have had a “fairly significant” impact on Alaska’s seafood sector, Woodrow said. Some seafood processors in Alaska have reported lost sales, delayed sales and lost customers due to the China tariffs, according to an ASMI survey of such businesses earlier this year.

“These headwinds are making it more challenging to use China as a secondary processor,” he said.

So, the group is looking to Southeast Asia and South America as it aims to grow the market for Alaska seafood elsewhere, for both consumers and for reprocessing operations.

[China is the biggest market for Alaska seafood exports. The tariff war is raising concerns.]

ASMI contracted with a company in Bangkok in May to expand its presence in Southeast Asia, Woodrow said. Those efforts will focus on Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, ASMI said in a statement, “with an initial emphasis on building trade relationships and providing technical support and education across the food service, retail and reprocessing sectors.”

ASMI also wants to build on its growth in Brazil in recent years by expanding the market for Alaska seafood to other South American countries including Chile, Colombia, Peru and Argentina.

The group regularly gets funding from the USDA through competitive grants. The annual grant from a longer-running USDA program allotted the group $4.5 million for fiscal year 2020, Woodrow said.

But that money is for more long-term work, Woodrow said. The $7.5 million this year through the new USDA program is meant to focus on developing new opportunities in the short-term, within the next three or so years, he said.

The funding makes it possible for ASMI to develop a year-round marketing approach in less established markets, rather than the occasional projects the group has done in the past.

“It’d be trade-focused as well as consumer-focused, and all the opportunities that lie in between,” Woodrow said.

In January this year, the USDA awarded $200 million through the new program to dozens of organizations around the country, and then awarded another $100 million this month.

Alongside ASMI, those other recipients include national groups such as the American Soybean Association and the National Potato Promotion Board, and also local ones, like the Almond Board of California and the Florida Department of Citrus.

Annie Zak

Annie Zak was a business reporter for the ADN between 2015 and 2019.