All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation want the Biden administration to hold China accountable for its apparent failure to live up to a 2020 trade deal.

In a letter sent Thursday to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Sen. Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden said China has broken its promise to buy more Maine lobster. They also requested details on exactly how much lobster China agreed to buy under the trade deal, which was negotiated and signed during the Trump administration. Sen. Susan Collins sent Tai a similar letter Wednesday.

Recent analyses indicate that China has failed to buy all of the additional $200 million in U.S. goods that trade officials said the country committed to in the “Phase One Deal” unveiled in early 2020. An analysis by Bloomberg released last month said China had only purchased 63 percent of the U.S. goods it had agreed to buy as part of an effort to reduce the trade deficit between the two countries.

In their letter, King, Pingree and Golden said China has bought “almost no lobster above 2017 levels” and said U.S. officials need to take action to make sure the additional purchases spelled out in the agreement take place.

“While we understand that the Phase One Deal as negotiated by the prior administration lacked key enforcement mechanisms, we urge you to hold China accountable for its purchase commitments under the deal,” the letter said.

Similarly, Collins urged “swift and appropriate action” to ensure China upholds the purchase commitments it made, “and in particular its U.S. lobster purchase commitments.”


U.S. dealers had worked hard to develop markets in China for Maine lobster, according to the letter, but “lost years of promising market growth – and hundreds of millions of dollars” when, in 2018, China imposed retaliatory tariffs on lobster and other U.S. products.

Maine’s live lobster sales to China fell by 46.7 percent, from $175.9 million to $93.8 million, in the year after the lobster tariff was imposed in July 2018, according to federal trade data. Analysts said China instead bought more lobster from Canada to avoid higher prices for U.S. lobster because of the tariffs on Maine lobster.

Trade officials said China had agreed to buy more lobster under the trade deal, but never said how much, which makes it difficult to calculate how much the country is falling short in its purchases, King, Pingree and Golden said. They asked U.S. officials to release details on the lobster purchases agreed to in the deal.

“To this day, we, along with our constituents, do not know how much lobster China agreed to purchase,” their letter said. “Maine’s lobster industry deserves far better than yet another promise broken by the Chinese government.”

The letters come at a time when the state’s lobster industry appears healthy. Still, the industry has said rising costs and tougher environmental regulations present a looming threat.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources reported this week that the state’s lobster harvest was worth $725 million last year, easily the highest ever, despite it being the third-lowest catch in the past decade.

Maine lobstermen hauled in 108 million pounds of lobster last year, a significant bounce-back from 2020, when only 97 million pounds were caught – the lowest total in a decade.

Comments are no longer available on this story