AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s lobster industry said Thursday it sees enormous potential from a trade mission from China that’s coming to the state at the invitation of one of the state’s gubernatorial candidates, independent Eliot Cutler.
Four Chinese businessmen plans to get a firsthand look at Maine’s lobster, blueberry and aquaculture industries when they visit the state Friday. They’ll watch from a lobster boats as traps are hauled, will visit wild blueberry fields and a processing plant and visit a halibut aquaculture site.
“We’ve looked at the emerging market in China for almost two years,” said Dana Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Council. He said he sees an “enormous potential” for future lobster exports, considering China’s place as the world’s third-largest seafood consumer and its growing demand for luxury products, such as the iconic Maine delicacy.
Maine is the nation’s largest producer of lobster and wild blueberries.
Among the visitors are Ning Gaoning, chairman of the China Overseas Food Corp., and Fang Fenglei, chairman of the investment fund Hopu. Their visit didn’t happen overnight, the Cutler campaign said.
Cutler, an attorney and former energy adviser to President Jimmy Carter, spent two years in China opening a Beijing office for his law firm and developing business contacts, campaign Manager Ted O’Meara said.
“This is something he’s been thinking about and planning before he decided to run for governor,” O’Meara said. Then the campaign developed, and Cutler invited the Chinese visitors. Cutler’s campaign is picking up some of the costs of the visit, but the details weren’t all worked out, he said.
“This visit would be taking place whether Cutler is a candidate or not,” O’Meara said.
Cutler hopes the visit can highlight his ability to generate economic and employment opportunities in a campaign in which job creation is a central issue, O’Meara said.
In a statement announcing the visit, Cutler said that with the fastest growing big economy in the world, China “is a market that holds huge potential for Maine, and I want to do everything I can to help Maine companies get a foot in the door.”
Cutler faces Democrat Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell and Republican Paul LePage, as well as two other independents, Shawn Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, in the race to succeed two-term Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.
Democratic coordinated campaign manager Arden Manning dismissed the significance of the Chinese visit, saying, “I think Mainers are more focused on what happens in China, Maine, than the People’s Republic of China.” China is the name of a central Maine lakeside town.