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Murkowski discusses trade tariffs: Alaska timber, fishing industries affected; no end in sight
Sen. Lisa Murkowski stands outside Cape Fox Lodge Friday while visiting Ketchikan. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, visited Ketchikan late this week and addressed a range of issues Friday with local media and a Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon audience.  

Among those are the effects being seen by Alaska timber and fishing industries from the widening trade conflct between the United States and China.

It’s a trade fight that has lasted longer than Murkowksi expected, and she doesn’t see it ending soon.

“If you had asked me some months ago if we would be here the ninth of August and still be involved or engaged in, in trade war, trade dispute with China, I would have said: ‘No, no, no, no,’” Murkowski told the chamber audience.

Now, “we are not in that place,” Murkowski continued. “And in fact, it has escalated beyond what I think most of us would have anticipated.”

The situation poses a significant challenge for Alaska, she said, citing the impact that the trade conflict is having on the state’s fishing and timber industries.

During her conversation with the Daily News on Friday, Murkowski referenced a meeting that she’d had earlier in the day with the Alaska Forest Association.

There, she’d heard that timber exports of one Alaska-harvested species had been hit with the highest level of tariff, while Alaskans work toward developing markets for young-growth timber now is facing a Chinese position of simply not buying the U.S. product.

On the seafood side, Murkowski noted that there had been some help with some seafood, including salmon.

In July of 2018, the U.S. exempted from tariffs U.S.-caught salmon and other seafood that’s shipped to China for final processing and then returned to the U.S. for sale to consumers.

But there generally hasn’t been U.S. relief programs available to the Alaska seafood and timber producers similar to those available to the segments of the U.S. land agriculture sector.

“(There’s a) great deal of focus on the impact to (agriculture) overall,” Murkowski told the chamber. “And those guys that produce soybeans have seen a level of support from the government for the impact that their industry has taken.

“They’ve forgotten that here in a coastal state like Alaska that our fisheries — where we're like the farmers of the sea — but we're not included in that category,” she continued. “So when our markets are hurt as they are right now, there's subsidies for the guys that grow things on the ground, but it's a harder fight on the water.”  

But while there will continue to be a push for relief for the Alaska seafood and timber industries, Murkowski said that simply “writing a check” to U.S. industries that are affected by the trade fight is “not the answer.”

“In my view, the answer is not more government subsidies — it's you want the opportunity to be able to harvest your fish, harvest your trees and engage in a full and fair market,” Murkowski said.

U.S. President Donald Trump recently announced another round of new tariffs, this one imposing a 10% levy on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports beginning on Sept. 1. China responded by devaluing it’s currency, and Trump said Friday that a round of trade talks with China scheduled for September could be canceled.

Murkowski told the Daily News that the conversation she’d had with the AFA regarding tariffs was an important one.

“I said to them, if we were having this conversation even three months ago, I would've said, ‘Yeah, it's coming to the end,’” Murkowski said. “I don't think any of us feel that we're coming to the end with China. In fact, I think we are coming to ... a place where it's ramping up on both sides, and how do you then get off of where we are? I don't know.”