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Alaska seafood industry braces for China tariff pain

Reuters  |  SEWARD, Alaska 

By Yereth Rosen

SEWARD, (Reuters) - 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, 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 is just going to stop buying 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, led a week-long trade mission to 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 and his cabinet.

Fishermen are worried, said Alan Noreide, a port town of Seward, where he delivers some of his catch to the local Icicle Seafoods plant, an Alaska-based company whose representatives accompanied Walker to

"We'd rather be left to our own challenges that we have. We don't need any more," said Noreide, who focuses on 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 company that sells products like pureed salmon bisque. Maroudas was part of the Alaska trade mission, and said the pitch about Alaskan "resonated with the people."

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

Farmers in the are expected to receive a $12 billion agricultural-aid package as a result of tariffs that are hitting soybean and other farmers. Walker and U.S. Senator have argued that Alaska's seafood industry also deserves aid.

The precise effects in Alaska have yet to be quantified and are likely to be uneven. A bit over half of the fish sent to China is processed there and re-exported, Woodrow said. While the has exempted those products from tariffs, the has proposed levies of up to 25 percent on the Alaska products shipped back from China to the

Exports of fish that go straight into the Chinese consumer market, such as crab, are most vulnerable, said Garrett Evridge, an Alaska seafood

(Reporting By in Seward, Alaska, and Kodiak, Alaska; editing by and Susan Thomas)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, August 12 2018. 16:38 IST