Threats of a trade war are starting to rattle markets far and wide, and the Barnegat Light commercial fishing industry is taking notice.

Earlier this month, the People’s Republic of China revealed plans to enact 25 percent tariffs on hundreds of seafood species from the U.S. – including scallops, lobster, snow crab, salmon, tuna and cod – in addition to various agricultural products and other items. The export levies, set to be imposed July 6, come in retaliation to the Trump administration’s recent tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar panels and more imported from China.

John Whiteside, general counsel to the American Scallop Association, describes the situation as speculative, since there’s no telling what may happen between now and July 6.

However, should China hold the line, and the U.S.’s exported seafood is slapped with a 25 percent tax, companies and consumers up and down the New Jersey coast, and beyond, will be shook.

“It won’t directly affect Viking Village (as it doesn’t export seafood), but it will affect prices,” said Ernie Panacek, general manager of the Viking Village commercial seafood docks in Barnegat Light, which does sell items to processors that export.

“The bottom line is money,” added Panacek, who also serves as president of the Garden State Seafood Association. “It’s all about money.”

John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, said in a June 15 statement that the NFI was reviewing the announcement from the Chinese to “determine its impacts on U.S. seafood exports.

“We are deeply disappointed in these retaliatory tariffs,” Connelly stated. “There is no connection between the products targeted by the U.S. and the tariffs Beijing plans to impose on exported American seafood. … It is not clear where these trade actions will ultimately lead; what is clear is that they will negatively impact American seafood jobs.”

In early June, said Whiteside, ASA leadership traveled to Washington, D.C., and hand-delivered a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that detailed issues already facing the country’s scallop industry. The letter included a request “to restart the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations due to international price undercutting issues,” the ASA explained.

“Specifically, as a result of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Canadian scallop industry now operates at an 8 percent advantage over its American counterpart. The agreement gives Canadian-based companies an unfair advantage in their exports to the European Union, making U.S. prices uncompetitive.”

Scallopers and scallop exporters certainly don’t want to also face a 25 percent tariff from China.

Similarly, as Connelly noted, “It is Maine lobstermen, the men and women on boats in Alaska and families harvesting and processing seafood in the Pacific Northwest who will feel the brunt of the administration’s misguided policy.”

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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