It’s business as usual for Maine companies trading goods or services on international markets even as U.S., Chinese and other politicians threaten tariffs and other punitive measures, each aimed at their own version of fair trade.
Four of them won awards Tuesday from the Maine International Trade Center for expanding rapidly in international trade in 2017.
Maine Coast of York won for Exporter of the Year for shipping 60 percent of the live lobster it distributes overseas. Planson International of New Gloucester won for Service Provider of the Year for exporting humanitarian services and IT equipment. Fiber Materials Inc. of Biddeford won for Innovator of the Year with its new products or processes for international markets. And St. Croix Tissue of Baileyville won for Foreign Direct Investor of the Year that recognizes a foreign company investing in Maine.
The awards will be presented on May 18 at Maine International Trade Day at Samoset Resort in Rockport.
Even though Maine companies are on a relatively small scale in total U.S. and world trade, they still are closely monitoring threats made by global trade giants. The United States could impose $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods’ imports and China could slap tariffs on 128 U.S. products.
So far, the products China has listed in response to threatened steel and aluminum tariffs by the Trump administration won’t impact Maine, according to Wade Merritt, president of MITC.
“We are emphasizing to our members that the tariff rules are important, but they are only part of the story,” he said. “Companies also spend a lot of time establishing business relationships.”
Asia is a growing market for Maine businesses, especially in the seafood sector, but others are also looking further east, according to MITC. In 2017, Maine exports to Asia totaled $769 million, or 29 percent of total exports. Top Maine export countries in Asia are China, Japan and South Korea.
Some 60 percent of Maine Coast’s $57 million in lobster revenue is exports, with Asia being the largest market, including China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.
To date, the trade tensions between China and the United States have not impacted Maine Coast.
“The Chinese and Americans are cautious and pragmatic, as they should be, as they walk this road,” Sheila Adams, vice president of sales and marketing for Maine Coast, said. The 50-employee company is nimble enough to respond should market conditions change because of tariffs or other conditions, she said.
“We’re exporters, so we’re always faced with regulatory changes,” she said.
“Chinese customers are very important to us, and this seafood source is very important to them so we try to negotiate as fairly as possible for both sides.”
Merritt said Maine Coast, which was founded by Sheila Adams’ husband, Tom Adams, in 2011, grew 125 percent over the past three years. The company shipped 7 million pounds of lobster from its facilities in York and Boston last year to 29 countries.
Planson was cited, Merritt said, because it is a $52 million company run out of a red barn in rural Maine that supplies IT equipment and services to 150 countries. Last year it supplied computers to labs in 889 high schools across the Philippines. And it operates in countries typically not served by Maine businesses, including Afghanistan and Burundi.
Fiber Materials, which had focused on government contract business, has been moving into the commercial market, Merritt said, with products for a Formula One racing car and a prosthetic limb for elite athletes.
St. Croix became a bright spot in Maine’s paper industry, he said, when its parent, International Grand Investment Corp., spent $120 million for two new tissue-making machines. IGIC is a U.S.-based company owned by a Chinese investment firm. That added 80 new jobs to the mill.
Scott Beal, a spokesman for St. Croix and its sister company, Woodland Pulp, said the companies are monitoring the trade tensions. While St. Croix sells to the U.S. market, China is a major market for Woodland Pulp, which sells 60 percent of its products to Europe and Asia.
“We’re monitoring the situation,” Beal said.
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