Nova Scotia

Amid booming exports, lobster group 'takes no pleasure' in U.S.-China trade spat

Canadian lobster exports to China are booming this year amid that country’s trade woes with the U.S., but seafood industry leaders on this side of the border are not celebrating.

Lobster Council of Canada says the lobster markets in Canada and the U.S. are heavily integrated

Nova Scotia's live lobster exports to China have totalled $227 million in the first six months of 2019, up 144 per cent over the same period in 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canadian lobster exports to China are booming amid that country's trade woes with the U.S., but seafood industry leaders on this side of the border are not celebrating.

Nova Scotia's live lobster exports to China have totalled $227 million in the first six months of 2019, up 144 per cent over the same period in 2018, according to the province. Nova Scotia's lobster industry provides the lion's share of the Canadian supply of live lobster.

Meanwhile, U.S lobster exports to China have fallen off a cliff: the value of exports through June was about 75 per cent what they were through June 2018.

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said the boost in Canadian exports to China — a massive and growing customer for lobster — are a result of the heavy tariffs imposed on U.S. lobster and other food products in July 2018.

But Irvine said the American and Canadian markets are integrated, and so his group "takes no pleasure in the fact that they're struggling."

"Trade in lobster between the U.S. and Canada is very much back and forth. It's very much linked," he said. "We would like to see it go back to normal, where we share the markets."

More than 9,300 tonnes of lobster were exported out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport between January and June of this year, an increase of 115 per cent over the same period last year. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

Irvine said Canada's lobster production seasons are generally different from those in the U.S., and so both countries buy a significant amount of lobster from each other throughout the year.

He added that many companies have operations in both countries to ensure a year-round supply. 

"That means there's cross-border share holdings and cross-border ownership of companies," said Irvine.

Leo Muise, executive director of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said the strained relationship between the U.S. and China has created uncertainty.

He said it's also unclear what Brexit could mean for Canadian lobster exports.

"These geopolitical issues cause uncertainty, and uncertainty can cause a bit of concern," said Muise, whose organization represents roughly 120 small and medium-size seafood companies.

Muise noted that despite the increase in exports, the price exporters are getting for lobster has not gone up.

"It's not like we can charge whatever price we feel like for our product. We still have to be competitive with other forms of seafood and other forms of protein," he said.

Exports to China doubling each year

More than 9,300 tonnes of lobster were exported out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport between January and June of this year, an increase of 115 per cent over the same period last year.

Irvine said although exports to China from Canada have increased, that is consistent with the trend over the last decade.

"It's important to keep in perspective that almost every year in the last six to seven years we've seen double, 100 per cent increases in sales to China," he said.

"Nine years ago, we sold no lobster to China."

This fall, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil will go on his second trip to China this year.

Irvine said the Canadian seafood industry has been focused on diversifying its markets, noting the council led a trade mission earlier this year to Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

"We have to remember that the international trade environment is complicated and that we play a small part in it and that we have to be nimble and we have to be ready to shift," he said.

"Our goal is to increase the value, and we will need to go in the world where we can get the best prices for our product."

With files from The Associated Press

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