July 20, 2018
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Maine’s lobster industry depends on Trump’s dealmaking. That’s worrisome.

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Lobsters are processed at the Sea Hag Seafood plant in St. George, Maine.

China’s proposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. lobster leave the fate of that major export market trapped in the hands of America’s dealmaker-in-chief, Donald Trump.

There’s reason the industry in Maine should be frightened at the prospect.

Maine lobster exports to China are up 187 percent this year, through April, over last year’s numbers. It’s the fastest pace of growth in Maine lobster exports to China since 2008. In 2017, China spent $55 million on live, fresh or chilled lobster coming directly from Maine, according to federal trade statistics.

Matt Jacobson, head of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative, said China’s announcement of retaliatory tariffs set to take effect July 6 “isn’t good news at all.”

Trump has not shown an aptitude for negotiations, in his private dealings or as president. He has consistently chosen style over substance, seeking to accomplish something he thinks looks good, no matter the cost.

In the case of trade with China, Trump said he aimed to protect U.S. technology companies, regardless of Silicon Valley leaders saying tariffs on Chinese imports will hurt their bottom lines.

Elsewhere, Trump has clearly played too strong of a hand. Harley-Davidson decided to move some production overseas in order to avoid price hikes for motorcycles it sells in Europe, a direct result of retaliatory tariffs from the European Union. Trump responded by saying the iconic motorcycle maker would “be taxed like never before!”

Trump’s recent summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is another case that highlights his ineffective “negotiating” style and raising serious doubts about his ability to tangle with China, which provided Kim’s plane ride to Singapore.

The summit yielded precious little for the US, which Trump has misrepresented and incoherently hailed as a success. Meanwhile, Trump pledged to end our joint military exercises with South Korea and elevated Kim’s brutal government to new heights.

Never before had a U.S. president met with the leader of North Korea. Never before had a U.S. president cluelessly saluted a North Korean general, either.

Trump has shown an aptitude for wading into international waters as an embodiment of American exceptionalism, in that he’s the exceptional one who feels no need to prepare.

Perhaps we should expect such results. Take, for example, one of his earliest deals to buy New York’s Plaza Hotel, in 1987. In an ad in New York Magazine, he boasted “for the first time in my life I have knowingly made a deal that was not economic — for I can never justify the price I paid, no matter how successful The Plaza becomes.”

Trump’s close associate, Thomas J. Barrack Jr., described the deal to the Washington Post, saying Trump’s opening salvo was “You have the Plaza. I want it.” That’s not the best way to negotiate.

Hopefully, Maine’s congressional delegation — which met recently with federal trade representatives in Maine — can craft a better deal for the export market that pumps millions into coastal and island communities that lean heavily on lobster fishing for their livelihoods.

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