Max Oliver moves a lobster to the banding table aboard his boat while fishing off Spruce Head on Aug. 31, 2021. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / BDN

Maine’s congressional delegation is urging the Biden administration to push China to meet a promise to buy more lobster as part of a 2020 deal easing a trade war that began under former President Donald Trump.

It was part of a “phase one” trade deal in early 2020 between the U.S. and China. The U.S. dropped plans to put tariffs on $160 billion worth of imports and halved existing tariffs on a smaller group of goods in exchange for a Chinese promise to buy more American products.

The lobster industry was part of that group of items after it was hammered by retaliatory Chinese tariffs in 2018 that led the value of live Maine lobsters sent to China to plummet 64 percent that July, compared with that month during the previous year. While exports to China have steadily risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still below record levels.

China was supposed to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods relative 2017 import levels between the signing of the deal and the end of 2021. But it has purchased none of that total on net, according to a study released this month by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

There was barely any increase in the amount of lobster purchased during that time as well, which led members of Maine’s congressional delegation to send letters to the Democratic president’s administration this week urging it to release the exact dollar amount of lobster that China agreed to purchase and what actions it will take to hold China accountable.

“Ensuring China’s commitments are upheld is critical to Maine’s iconic lobster industry, which supports thousands of jobs and strengthens our coastal communities,” wrote Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who urged the lobster industry’s inclusion in the trade deal.

The institute’s study noted that the entire trade deal showed “some degree of bad faith on both sides.” Most of Trump’s tariffs have remained in effect, which raised costs for U.S. companies. Chinese tariffs are in effect as well. U.S. business investment in exports has been discouraged.

The continuing trade war has hit many other Maine businesses as well. For example, Farmington-based Kemp Enterprises, a family-owned craft products company, was hit with a $300,000 bill earlier this year because of U.S. tariffs on China-made wooden dowels.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...