Key Alaska seafood products dropped from list of Chinese tariffs

Homer boat harbor. (KBBI photo)

Some of Alaska’s seafood industry has escaped the Trump administration’s trade war with China for now. The industry is happy the administration dropped some mainstay seafood products from a list of tariffs it imposed last week.

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The Trump administration levied billions of dollars worth of tariffs on the world’s second largest economy on Sept. 24. The tariffs start at 10 percent and will ratchet up to 25 percent by 2019. The Trump administration’s original list of levies included seafood products that Alaska processors export to China for reprocessing.

“A portion of that actually comes back to the U.S.,” Garrett Everidge, a fisheries economist at the McDowell Group, said. “These would be products such as salmon products, Pacific cod products and other seafood products that the state produces.”

But Pacific cod and salmon have been dropped from the list.

“As of right now, those categories have been excluded from the import tariffs. Pollock products have also been excluded,” Everidge explained.

That’s good news. Even when those tariffs were just a proposal, they were slowing down Alaska processors’ sales in China, the main buyer of Alaska seafood.

That’s because Chinese fish buyers were taking a wait-and-see approach as the Trump administration worked to finalize its list of tariffs. 

“Compared to a few months ago when there was a bit more uncertainty and just less information, we now have a better understanding of those products that are actually going to be on the list,” Everidge added. “That represents an improvement for both the buyers and sellers.”

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich agrees the final list is an improvement.

However, she said other countries that send their salmon, cod and pollock harvests to China will be able to better compete with those same products originating in Alaska. That’s because they’re co-mingled upon export.

“Some of that product that will now not be tariffed is product of our competitors. So, it’s not a straight win,” Tonkovich explained. “Generally, we’re pleased with the modification and the removal of certain product codes of Alaska seafood off the list. Certainly, salmon is a big win, having that off the list.”

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan also praised the move in a press release Thursday.

Overall, the removal of salmon and other products gives the Alaska seafood industry some breathing room in a trade dispute that only shows signs of heating up.

Tonkovich said that’s something the industry is concerned about.

“China, every time we put a tariff on their product, they counter us. So, we’re continuing to monitor to see what additional tariffs may come down the line,” Tonkovich said. “We would like to see a more definitive resolution to this conflict soon.”

China has kept its relationship with the Alaska seafood industry in mind during the dispute. It exempted seafood entering the country for reprocessing when it implemented a 25-percent tariff on U.S seafood earlier this year.

The state harvests 60 percent of all seafood in the U.S., which accounts for a significant portion of seafood products that are exported to China for reprocessing.