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Maine delegation fears Trump won't deliver on trade aid for lobster industry

Maine delegation fears Trump won't deliver on trade aid for lobster industry
© Rebecca Beistch

Maine’s congressional delegation is concerned President TrumpDonald TrumpMore than two-thirds of Americans approve of Biden's coronavirus response: poll Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor Mexico's president tests positive for COVID-19 MORE won’t deliver promised aid to lobstermen amid a looming deadline to start such a program.

President Trump made his promise shortly after a June visit to the state, where lobstermen have hit hard times after the Chinese market evaporated due to Trump’s trade war with Beijing.

A June 24 order from Trump gave the Department of Agriculture 60 days to set up a program similar to those established for Midwestern farmers as the Chinese markets for corn, soybeans and pork also tanked.

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“This 60-day period is now drawing to a close, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has yet to take any further action. We urge you to keep the President’s promise and immediately assist the thousands of Mainers whose livelihoods depend on this critical industry,” Maine's senators and two House members wrote in a letter to the USDA noting the Monday deadline for action.

Maine lobster exports to China dropped 50 percent between 2018 and 2019, when the country placed a retaliatory tariff on the shellfish that now hovers around 35 percent.

The delegation has been asking for assistance for the industry for more than a year, but those calls went unanswered until June.

Since then, lawmakers have complained of radio silence from the USDA and expressed doubt the relief would come to fruition.

“Neither I nor my staff have received an update on USDA’s plans to provide direct relief to the lobster industry,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingBiden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief MORE (I-Maine) wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control Trump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions MORE last month, asking the agency to reach out to both the Maine delegation and industry leaders.

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Rep. Chellie PingreeRochelle (Chellie) PingreeDemocrats condemn 'lawlessness' amid Capitol chaos Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Biden leads Trump by 11 points in Maine: survey MORE (D-Maine) told The Hill earlier this month that Trump’s promise of aid to offset tariffs has coming too late.

“These are issues that have been problematic for quite a while,” she said in reference to Trump’s June visit. “I’m sure in his mind appealing to the lobstermen was, you know, showing concern for working people and an important industry in our state, but I don’t think it’s a positive thing to do if you’re just making empty promises, particularly for an industry that has a lot of reasons to be worried.”

The USDA did not respond to request for comment.

Creating such an aid program could be a heavy lift. It’s unclear who would be eligible: lobstermen, the co-ops they sell to, or the wholesalers that find markets for lobster across the globe.

But Maine’s lawmakers see the relief as essential as the damage from the trade war has been compounded by the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

“With no end to these tariffs in sight and the new burden of the COVID-19 pandemic also weighing heavily on the industry, it is imperative that Maine’s lobster producers receive immediate support from the department,” the delegation wrote.