Alaska seafood in­dus­try braces for China tar­iff pain

Kuwait Times - - Business -

SE­WARD, Alaska: Alaska fish­er­men are used to cop­ing with fickle weather and wild ocean waves. Now they face a new chal­lenge: the United States’ trade war with China, which buys $1 bil­lion in Alaskan fish an­nu­ally, mak­ing it the state’s top seafood ex­port mar­ket.

Bei­jing, in re­sponse to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move to im­ple­ment ex­tra levies on Chi­nese goods, last month im­posed a 25 per­cent tar­iff on Pa­cific North­west seafood, in­clud­ing Alaskan fish, in a tit-for-tat that has en­gulfed the world’s two largest coun­tries in a trade war.

The re­sults could be “dev­as­tat­ing” to Alaska’s seafood in­dus­try, the state’s big­gest pri­vate-sec­tor em­ployer, said Frances Leach, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of United Fish­er­men of Alaska, the state’s largest com­mer­cial fish­ing trade group.

“This isn’t an eas­ily re­placed mar­ket,” she said. If the tar­iff war con­tin­ues, she said, “What’s go­ing to hap­pen is China is just go­ing to stop buy­ing Alaska fish.”

For Alaska’s seafood in­dus­try, the tim­ing could not be worse. The state has worked for years to at­tract the Chi­nese mar­ket, and just two months ago, Gov­er­nor Bill Walker led a week-long trade-mis­sion to China in which the seafood in­dus­try was heav­ily rep­re­sented.

Walker’s trade mis­sion was a fol­low-up to an Alaska visit a year ear­lier by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his cabi­net. Fish­er­men are wor­ried, said Alan Nor­eide, a fish­er­man in the Alaska port town of Se­ward, where he de­liv­ers some of his catch to the lo­cal Ici­cle Seafoods plant, an Alaska-based seafood pro­cess­ing com­pany whose rep­re­sen­ta­tives ac­com­pa­nied Walker to China.

“We’d rather be left to our own chal­lenges that we have. We don’t need any more,” said Nor­eide, who fo­cuses on Gulf of Alaska black cod and hal­ibut.

Mar­keters have found that mid­dle-class Chi­nese cus­tomers view Alaska fish, par­tic­u­larly wild Alaskan salmon as a su­pe­rior prod­uct from un­spoiled wa­ters.

Chi­nese buy­ers are in­ter­ested in “clean, nat­u­ral, or­ganic” prod­ucts, said Zoi Maroudas, founder of an An­chor­age-based baby food com­pany that sells prod­ucts like pureed salmon bisque. Maroudas was part of the Alaska trade mis­sion, and said the pitch about Alaskan food “res­onated with the peo­ple.”

But higher prices due to tar­iffs could nudge Chi­nese con­sumers to prod­ucts from com­pet­ing coun­tries such as Rus­sia and Nor­way, clos­ing Alaska’s emerg­ing op­por­tu­nity, said Jeremy Woodrow of the Alaska Seafood Mar­ket­ing In­sti­tute, a state agency. —

Fish­er­man Alan Nor­eide is pic­tured on his boat, the Lorelei II, in Se­ward, Alaska, US. — Reuters

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