“You almost never see all four of us in the same place at the same time,” said Sen. Angus King as he and Sen. Susan Collins, both at left, join Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin, both at right, on the Portland waterfront Friday with the Maine Lobster Dealers Association’s Annie Tselikis. All have concerns about trade impacts on lobster exports.

Maine’s congressional delegation held a rare joint news conference Friday in Portland to highlight the importance of lobstering to the state’s economy and raise awareness how the Trump administration’s trade policies could hurt lobster exports.

The news conference came in advance of a daylong meeting the delegation and leaders of the state’s lobster industry had with top U.S. trade negotiators. Lawmakers planned to make it clear to federal officials how critical export markets are to Maine’s $1.5 billion-a-year lobster industry, jobs and the entire state economy.

“You almost never see all four of us in the same place at the same time; it is an important statement in and of itself,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent, standing next to Republican Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District and Bruce Poliquin, R- 2nd District. King, Poliquin and Pingree are seeking reelection this year.

“What we want to get across is how important this is to our state,” King said.

Lobster is Maine’s highest-valued export product, worth more than $336 million in 2017. Maine lobster dealers have carefully cultivated an international market for Maine’s iconic seafood, especially in emerging middle-class countries like China.

But industry insiders are worried a 2017 trade deal that eliminates European Union tariffs on Canadian lobster imports will make Maine less competitive. And as the Trump administration appears to ratchet up a trade war with China and allies like the EU, there also are fears Maine lobsters could be targeted for retaliatory tariffs.

Collins, King, Pingree and Poliquin sent a letter to President Trump on May 31 expressing their concerns about the effect on Maine’s lobster industry if Chinese seafood were included in the administration’s tariff plans.

The lawmakers’ meeting with Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney and two other officials came the day after Trump slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The EU planned retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products like Kentucky bourbon and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

The meeting was organized by the Maine Lobster Dealers Association and included meetings with different players within the lobster industry on the Portland waterfront. Representatives for Maine’s delegation did not respond Friday night to requests for information about what transpired during the meetings.

The delegation expected to have “frank discussions” with Mahoney and his team to “explore better ways not only to preserve, but expand, access to overseas markets,” said Collins.

Things could go “horribly wrong” for Maine’s lobster exports in the midst of “enormous chaos” of Trump’s trade policy, said Pingree, whose district includes lobster fishing communities in southern Maine and her hometown of North Haven island.

“We didn’t always have an export market,” Pingree said. “It is just not a small matter if you lose this or it changes.”

Poliquin, whose district includes major Down East lobstering communities like Stonington, said the four lawmakers were “all for Maine all the time” despite disagreeing on national issues.

Trade was important, Poliquin said, but it had to be fair to Maine businesses and employees.

“We want to make sure we get the word out that we have to stand up for Maine workers,” he said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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