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With $1 billion on the line, China tariffs will take toll on Alaska seafood

China is Alaska's largest trading partner.

Alaska's seafood industry is bracing for impact following news that China plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on a list of US seafood products that so far includes all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, snow crab, Atka mackerel and sablefish.

"A review of these tariffs show most of those imports could be impacted -- they're all on that list," Garrett Evridge, an Alaska-based fishery analyst with the McDowell Group, told IntraFish Monday. "The potential is there for a difficult development for the industry."

China is Alaska's largest trading partner, with $988 million (€849.9 million) exported in 2017.

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Most of Alaska's fish goes to China to be reprocessed, which means China could also be impacted by its own tariff, Evridge said.

“An interesting angle to this story is that China would be raising the price of inputs to a domestic reprocessing industry," Evridge said. "Precedence would indicate there is usually more detail and nuance when these types of tariffs or trade changes are finalized.”

China's tariffs are set to go in effect July 6.

Alaska lawmakers are also speaking out against the tariffs.

In May, the Alaska delegation sent a letter to President Trump urging him to exempt Alaska’s seafood from the ongoing trade negotiations with China.

In that letter the lawmakers specifically asked the Trump administration to "avoid any trade policy action -- especially action involving China -- that could trigger tariff-based or other retaliatory actions against the nation's seafood exports."

"Markets for premium Alaska seafood products in China are critically important, especially since another major foreign market was eliminated in 2014, when Russia implemented a seafood import ban in retaliation for US sanctions related to the crisis in Ukraine," the letter said.

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Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young, who is part of the delegation, called the most recent tariff announcement "very concerning for Alaska and our fisherman" in a statement Monday.

"I have always been a strong supporter of our robust fishing industry and I will continue to work with the administration to ensure that the Alaskan seafood industry is protected," he said.

On June 15, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) also expressed disappointment in China's decision to increase tariffs on US seafood products.

"China is the largest export market for Alaska seafood and a major reprocessing location," said Alexa Tonkovich, ASMI's executive director, in a statement. "Currently, we do not yet know the full impact these increased tariffs will have on Alaska seafood exports, but we are working with other US seafood industry trade groups and our China ASMI office to evaluate this issue."

ASMI has been active in the Chinese market for over 20 years and has created strong demand in the domestic Chinese market for Alaska seafood products, Tonkovich said.

"Alaska seafood companies have also invested in the market and have many Chinese partnerships," Tonkovich said.

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