Following his visit to Maine on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence took to Twitter to spout lies about President Trump’s failed trade war with China. But Pence’s attempt to spin Trump’s reckless trade policies can’t distract from the reality that his trade war has devastated Maine’s economy, including the lobster industry.
“Mike Pence can peddle lies to Mainers all he wants, but that won’t change the fact is that Trump’s trade war left our economy high and dry,” said Maine Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Marra. “Maine industries have been taking on water ever since Trump recklessly escalated tensions with China, wreaking havoc on our lobstermen, wild blueberry farmers, dairy farmers, potato farmers, and manufacturers. Trump has nothing to show for his broken promises except an economy in crisis, and come November, Mainers will vote him out of office.”
---------- Forwarded message ---------
To: Interested Parties
From: Seth Nelson, Maine Democratic Party
Date: Friday, September 25, 2020
Re: On National Lobster Day, Maine Industries Sinking Under the Weight of Trump’s Failed Trade War
On this National Lobster Day, a day to celebrate the economic and cultural significance of lobster to the United States, Maine’s lobster industry is in crisis thanks to Donald Trump’s failed trade war with China. When Donald Trump stood before Mainers four years ago in Bangor, he promised he would deliver “the greatest trade deals” in American history. But after failing to deliver any great trade deals, the Trump administration recently announced an attempt to brush aside the damage he's inflicted on Maine's lobster industry. But it's not just lobsters that have been upended. Our wild blueberry market has nearly vanished, our manufacturing businesses are facing higher costs and greater economic uncertainty, and our dairy and potato farming industries have been permanently impacted. Thanks to the disastrous ripple effects of Trump's failed trade war, Maine's economy is in crisis.
Trump’s Trade War Trapped Maine’s Lobster Industry
In President Obama’s final year in office, Maine had a record lobster catch. But in the years since Trump took office, Maine’s lobster industry has cratered as a result of Trump’s trade war with China. And while Trump has taken measures to paper over the damage he inflicted on Maine lobstermen and women, his efforts to clean up a mess he created should be considered the bare minimum.
After Trump escalated tensions and imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, retaliatory tariffs caused overall Maine lobster exports to China to drop a staggering 50 percent. Under the terms of Trump’s trade deal, China promised purchases of U.S. lobster, but so far China has purchased less U.S. lobster in 2020 than in 2019, when Donald Trump’s trade war was in full swing.
After sabotaging lobstermen’s livelihoods, Trump has attempted to gloss over the turmoil he’s thrown Maine’s lobster industry into. First, he pledged to lift restrictions on protected waters for Maine’s lobster industry, but lobstermen in the state have said those actions don’t “help the Maine fisherman at all.” This week Trump also finally promised to provide assistance to the struggling lobster industry, but that assistance left out lobster dealers and processors, who have suffered the most in the industry from Trump’s trade war. And, a recent report revealed that the Trump administration’s mini-tariff deal reached with the EU to remove tariffs on exports of US lobsters is likely “too little, too late,” and won’t come close to offsetting the extensive damage Trump has inflicted on the industry.
Chinese Tariffs Have Decimated Maine’s Wild Blueberry Market
Between 2014 and 2017, Maine wild blueberry exports to China quadrupled as Maine farmers raked in profits from increasing demand from the growing Chinese market. By 2018, after Trump initiated his reckless trade war that slapped tariffs on American frozen fruit and Maine wild blueberries, Maine exported fewer than 75,000 pounds of wild blueberries––less than 4% of the previous year’s market. Trump’s “great trade deal” put tremendous stress on rural Mainers, farm workers, and small business owners as it left a gaping hole in demand for Maine’s iconic fruit.
Then, to make a bad situation worse, the wild blueberry industry was excluded from the Trump administration’s subsidies for farmers who had been hurt by his trade war despite multiple requests for assistance. As farmers across the country received a bailout package to recover from the president’s bad trade policies, not one cent of the Trump administration’s trade-war bailout money reached Maine blueberry farmers.
Members of the wild blueberry community have never been given an explanation. According to a 2019 NBC news article, “there wasn’t a “specific” or “exact formula” for determining which crops win the lottery and which don’t. Experts contend the USDA’s process has not been transparent.”
“There’s no transparency and no accountability,” said Joshua Sewell, senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a bipartisan D.C. budget watchdog group, said in the same report. “When you look at the trade war aid, you’ve essentially produced a shadow farm bill with no debate and no Congressional input. It was just the Secretary of Agriculture deciding how to do it.”
Now, more than two years later, Trump has left Maine’s oldest and most iconic agricultural industry to shutter, as it faces lower prices, climate change, and an unchecked pandemic that has lowered demand and increased uncertainty.
“Maine’s wild blueberry industry has suffered enough. Donald Trump has shown little empathy towards the farm workers he abandoned and the industry he ravaged with his tariff war and inability to manage the COVID pandemic,” said Roque Bluffs wild blueberry farmer Lisa Hanscom. “By voting for Joe Biden in November, my fellow farmers are standing up to say enough is enough.”
Maine Manufacturing Companies Face Increased Uncertainty and Instability
In 2017, the Trump administration imposed numerous new tariffs on vital U.S. manufacturing imports, most notably steel and aluminum, but has done little to revitalize American producers. The move has thrown a wrench into locked-in contracts for many Maine manufacturers who have seen the price of imported steel and aluminum increase as a result of Trump’s trade war, forcing them to absorb the costs in the short term and pass along the costs to customers in the long term. Trump’s trade war not only has eaten into the bottom line of small Maine manufacturers, but has put their competitive advantage with competitors, especially foreign competitors, in jeopardy.
Trump’s steel tariffs have also threatened another industry already hit hard by his trade war: the lobster industry. The extra tax on raw imported steel has raised prices on wire mesh used by Maine manufacturers to make lobster traps. For Maine’s lobster trap makers, the uncertainty from steel tariffs driving up prices of raw materials needed to produce their products is only matched by the uncertainty of retaliatory lobster tariffs driving down lobster prices, making buying new lobster traps a losing proposition for many lobstermen.
And while Maine manufacturers reported that the sudden jump in raw material prices resulting from Trump’s trade war “caught us out of the blue,” Trump continues to impose tariffs on a whim, forcing a consortium of New England governors to call on the president to reverse a decision that will negatively impact manufacturers and supply chains in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Maine Agricultural Sectors Have Been Permanently Damaged by Trump’s Presidency
Maine’s trademark industries aren’t the only sectors suffering badly under Trump’s tariff war––farmers across the agricultural industry are feeling the impact too.
Maine is home to more than 200 dairy farms across the state that collectively produce more than 71 million gallons of milk a year. Unfortunately for Maine dairy farmers, Trump’s tariffs have significantly lowered milk prices, resulting in $2.3 billion on lost revenue nationwide. Agri-Mark Senior Economist Catherine de Ronde estimated that the average Maine farm will lose about $50,000 in revenue.
Over 40 years ago, the Great Maine Potato War upheaved Maine’s agricultural economy and brought great insecurity to Maine farmers for over 10 years. Now, Maine potato farmers face a new trade threat that could overhaul the industry once again. As Trump’s trade war rages on, major potato exporters in the Pacific Northwest could “end up flooding the U.S. and Canadian markets with potatoes they normally would sell to China and Taiwan,” further depressing prices for Maine growers.
As long as our nation maintains the reckless and directionless trade agenda that Trump has set us on, Maine’s agricultural economy will stay extremely vulnerable to market uncertainty and face reduced prices that will cost our state jobs. Maine workers and business owners deserve better.