New Trade Deal Has Maine Lobster Shippers in a Pinch

While the fishing winds down in the winter, 'tis the season for lobster shipping. This is the busiest time of the year for exports, as people across the country and around the world order crustacean for Christmas and New Years celebrations. 

"It's the equivalent of 2-3 weeks of summer business," said Shawn McEwen, owner of the Sea Salt Lobster company. He owns a restaurant and retail wholesale business, and he says that exports to China and Europe are strong - but the tides are turning. 

"We are concerned going forward," said McEwen. 

That's because a new deal between Canada and the European Union is putting Maine lobster shippers in a pinch. The trade deal eliminates an eight percent tariff on Canadian lobster exports, making the Maine product more expensive. 

"While this does certainly create a disadvantage for us in the market, and will shake out over the course of 6-12 months, right now, this year, we're not seeing a catastrophic decline in exports," said Annie Tselikis, Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Dealers' Association. 

The trade deal went into effect in September, so it's too early to know how it will impact American exports in the future, Tselikis said. 

She said the European market accounts for about 20 percent of American lobster exports, making it an important market to maintain. 

"I don't want it to sound like the sky is falling, but we're obviously very concerned about this issue," she said. 

Matt Jacobson, Executive Director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, has a somewhat optimistic outlook. 

"This will certainly take a bite out of what we do in Europe," he said, "[but] I don't think Europe is completely gone. I don't think the Canadians can service the whole market, so there will still be a place for us." 

McEwen holds out hope that the federal government can negotiate a better trade deal to level the playing field. 

"Hopefully the government realizes how big this is for the state of Maine," he said. 

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