Christmas tail: Europe deal could slow yuletide lobster biz

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, file photo, live lobsters are packed and weighed for overseas shipment at the Maine Lobster Outlet in York, Maine. A trade deal between Canada and the European Union, which gets rid of tariffs on Canadian lobster exports, could have a negative affect for the U.S. at Christmastime 2017. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Robert F. Bukaty

Associated Press
Sunday, December 17, 2017

A trade deal between Canada and the European Union could amount to a lump of coal for the U.S. seafood industry at Christmastime.

The Christmas season is typically a busy time of year for American seafood exporters, as the type of lobster that is native to North America is popular in some European countries around the holiday. But Canada and the EU brokered a deal this year that gets rid of tariffs on Canadian lobster exports to the 28-nation bloc.

Canada, the world’s other major lobstering nation, is now at an economic advantage over the U.S. Members of the U.S. lobster industry, which is based in New England, said exports to Europe have been pretty typical this year, but they’re worried about the future.

“Dealing with Christmas orders, there’s going to be more pressure, and then the next year there’s going to be even more,” said Spencer Fuller, a lobster buyer for Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland, Maine. “It’s on the horizon.”

The new trade rules, called the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act, or CETA, cleared their final hurdle in May. The tariffs for fish and seafood had been averaging 11 percent, and the EU is the biggest importer of seafood in the world, importing nearly $300 million in American and Canadian lobster last year.

The rules are taking effect as American lobster exports to some key European nations have tailed somewhat in recent years. Exports to France fell from more than $42 million in 2006 to less than $27 million in 2016. Spain’s imports dipped from $51.6 million to $42.6 million in that time, and business is also down slightly in Italy, another major importer.

Canada’s lobster exports to the European Union, measured in Canadian dollars, grew from about $88 million in 2013 to more than $192 million last year, according to statistics provided by the Canadian government.

Meanwhile, lobster exports to Asia have exploded. China imported less than $800,000 in U.S. lobsters in 2006 and took in more than $108 million last year.

The trade rules could instead end up hurting American shippers during slower parts of the year, said Stephanie Nadeau, owner of The Lobster Company in Arundel, Maine. There might be enough demand to go around in busy times such as Christmas, but it could dry up during the slow season, she said.