Trade Wars Do No Good, Hurt Seafood Sustainability Efforts

The Global Aquaculture Alliance’s vision is a world that embraces and enables the role of responsibly farmed seafood in meeting global nutrition needs.

However, that vision is clouded when nations become embroiled in trade wars. Currently, a trade war is escalating between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China (last year alone, the two powerhouses traded almost $700 billion in goods) and seafood is among the products caught in the crossfire.

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion of goods imported to the United States from China to 25 percent from 10 percent, while China President Xi Jinping upped tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods imported to China. In seafood, farmed tilapia from China is among the range of seafood products now facing a 25 percent tariff in the United States, and China has increased tariffs on imported U.S. soybeans, a key ingredient in feed for farmed fish.

Producers (both in the United States and China) cannot just absorb these costs, and the immediate effect is for prices to be increased. Although respective governments can recycle the tariffs charged back into their economies, it is more likely that, at least in the short term, U.S. and Chinese consumers will likely be asked to pay more for an affordable, healthful protein.

But the impact goes well beyond international trade and price. Jobs in fish processing plants are at risk (many U.S. seafood companies import fish from China for processing in the United States). Some U.S.-caught fish is sent to China for processing before being shipped back to the United States, potentially attracting double charges.

Sustainability is also a victim. Efforts to improve aquaculture practices on the ground — whether it’s environmental responsibility, social responsibility, animal health and welfare, and food safety — will certainly be affected by the trade war. Case in point is the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) third-party certification program. The incentive to certify processing plants, farms, hatcheries and feed mills dissipates when countries are discouraged from exporting seafood to sustainably minded markets with punitive tariffs.

GAA believes strongly in the power of free trade. Though we are not a lobbying organization, we are a member-based organization with representation up and down the seafood value chain, representing around 50 countries through membership and the BAP program. That’s a lot of voices to speak out against tariffs.

We encourage you, no matter what country you live in, to speak your mind and contact your elected officials if you are impacted by tariffs or are concerned about their effect on promoting responsible aquaculture. We also encourage you to contribute to the National Fisheries Institute’s “Seafood, See Jobs” campaign. Launched last August, the campaign, which targets lawmakers on Capitol Hill, features a number of videos of American seafood workers explaining just how important free trade is to their livelihoods.

Thank you for your support.

Andrew Mallison
Global Aquaculture Alliance