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Lee Webb is a former senior fellow at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.
Donald Trump promised that he would deliver “the greatest trade deals” in American history when he visited our state during his 2016 campaign. But after four years of historic failures, including a trade war lost to China, Trump has left Maine industries reeling.
After he imposed tariffs on Chinese goods — and China retaliated — our lobster exports dropped by 50 percent. Our wild blueberry market contracted by a staggering 97 percent. Our dairy farms could lose an average of $50,000 a piece. And our manufacturing businesses are facing input price hikes of more than 40 percent.
The president wreaked havoc on our farmers, our lobstermen and women, and our manufacturers. Trump’s trade war didn’t deliver any great trade deals, but its disastrous ripple effects did leave our economy in crisis.
In President Barack Obama’s last year in office, we had a record lobster catch. But Trump’s trade war upended our vital lobster industry and turned our hardworking lobstermen and women into collateral damage. And even though the president has attempted to clean up the mess he made with assistance to the lobster industry, that assistance left out lobster dealers and processors — and they’ve suffered the most from his recklessness.
In the end, Trump settled for a phase one deal with China that didn’t address the structural issues that sparked the trade war to begin with. And worse, it doesn’t even undo the damage he caused. The president managed to secure vague promises to purchase more U.S products, including lobster, but so far China hasn’t lived up to that promise. In fact, China bought less U.S. lobster in 2020 than in 2019, when the trade war was in full swing.
But it’s not just our lobster industry sinking under the weight of Trump’s failed trade war. In the final years of Obama’s presidency into 2017, wild blueberry exports to China quadrupled. But then Trump slapped tariffs on American frozen fruit and wild blueberries. Almost overnight, wild blueberry exports to China nearly vanished, straining farmers and rural Mainers who relied on exports of the iconic fruit.
Then, making a bad situation worse, the wild blueberry industry was excluded from the administration’s bailout package to help farmers recover from the president’s bad trade policies. Trump created the crisis wild blueberry farmers faced, then he left them out in the cold to freeze as prices plummeted and demand dwindled.
Trump’s trade war drained our dairy farms, too. Some 200 dairy farms across the state that produce more than 71 million gallons of milk a year are the economic engines driving rural Maine. But after China retaliated with tariffs on dairy products, Maine dairy farms were suddenly competing with domestic producers who lost a vital foreign market, leading to wild swings in prices. One economist estimated that the average Maine farm will lose tens of thousands in revenue. A similar fate has befallen Maine’s potato farmers.
Trump’s recklessness has hurt multiple iconic Maine industries, but all kinds of Maine manufacturers are feeling the pressure too. His tariffs on vital imported inputs — like steel and aluminum — did little to revitalize American producers, but did manage to drive up the price of imported steel and aluminum for many Maine manufacturers. Higher input costs means less profit and higher prices for consumers — risking their competitive advantage.
From lobster to blueberries to dairy to potatoes to manufacturing, Trump’s trade war has checked all the boxes of an economic disaster for Maine. As long as our nation maintains a directionless trade agenda where the president imposes tariffs on a whim, our economy will remain vulnerable to market uncertainty that will cost us jobs. Maine workers and business owners deserve better, which is why we need to elect Joe Biden in November. He helped bring the U.S. economy back from the brink once, and he can do it again.