PORTLAND, Maine — As a trade deal between the European Union and Canada nears completion, politicians in Maine want the federal government to find a way to prevent the U.S. from landing in a major trade disadvantage over a valuable, and tasty, resource — lobsters.
The Canada-European Union deal would get rid of tariffs on Canadian lobster exports to the 28-nation bloc. That would give Canada a huge advantage over the United States in sending some coveted seafood products overseas.
EU nations imported more than $150 million in lobster from America last year, and took more than $190 million Canadian (US$143 million) from Canada. The combination of a strong U.S. dollar and tariffs would make it hard to compete with Canada, American lobster exporters said.
In Maine, where most of America's lobster catch comes to shore, Gov. Paul LePage and all four members of the congressional delegation are putting pressure on the federal government to intervene. LePage, a Republican, has called for a meeting with Trump administration officials on the issue.
"I'm very concerned that Canada's agreement with the European Union could hurt the lobster industry here in Maine by placing us at a competitive disadvantage," said Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat. "It's important that President Trump's administration understands how critical this situation is in its own trade negotiations with the European Union."
Members of the Maine delegation said it remains to be seen how the government could get involved to level the playing field. The U.S. Department of Commerce, which handles issues related to seafood trade, did not respond to a request for comment.
But one solution could be by brokering a deal similar to the Canada-European Union pact, which has EU approval and is nearing finalization in the Parliament of Canada.
The agreement means EU nations would gradually eliminate tariffs over four years, a European Commission spokesman said. The pact is part of the larger EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The Canadian government has said tariffs for fish and seafood average 11
The U.S. and EU have worked on a trade agreement that would eliminate tariff barriers, but the talks are on hold right now, the spokesman said.
The U.S.'s lack of an agreement shows the need to better negotiate with European trading partners, said Mike Tourkistas, chief executive officer of East Coast Seafood, of Topsfield, Massachusetts, which is a major exporter of lobsters to Europe.
"We should focus on getting on board, rather than trying to fight," he said. "Up and down the New England coastline, the impact can be big."
In Canada, members of the lobster industry said the best remedy is for the U.S. to forge its own deal with the EU. But in the meantime, they're looking forward to a bump in business.
Canada's agreement with Europe could potentially benefit the U.S. industry because a lot of its lobster catch gets sent to Canada for processing, said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.
"Our live industry is so intermingled with your live industry," he said. "This isn't to put out our American partners. It's just that our government has made it a priority."