Semiconductors and Lobsters - The Burgeoning Maine-Asia Export Market

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by David Lee
The lobster fishing industry off the state of Maine in the United States is known for its large catches and the tough conditions that must be endured. (Image: Scania Group)

In the last few years, Maine has transformed into one of the largest sources of exports to Asia. An explosion of demand from East and Southeast Asia has impacted markets in the Pine Tree State. Malaysia and China are Maine’s 2nd and 3rd  greatest export destinations.

Malaysia
In 2015, Malaysia became Maine’s second largest export market with the total value of exported goods standing at $208.5 million. Maine exports to Malaysia have grown the fastest as a market compared to other countries, growing an average of 24% annually since 2002. Semi-conductors account for the majority of Malaysia’s imports, accounting for nearly half of Maine’s exports in the electronics category.

A surge in aircraft turbines and semiconductor manufacturing helped the Portland metropolitan area (Cumberland, York, and Sagadahoc counties) grow its exports by more than 8% in 2015, making it the fastest-growing billion-dollar-plus exporting region in the US at $1.1 billion. The upturn in manufacturing has also benefited Malaysian industries, primarily because Malaysia imports semiconductors to further process them. A sizeable portion of Maine’s turbines are also sent to Japan and Singapore.

China
In 2016, Maine’s lobster industry had its best year yet, selling $103 million worth of lobster abroad in the first half of the year – twice the amount sold in the same period of 2015. The primary reason is China: Maine lobster exports to China have grown 43% since 2015. As the Chinese developed a know-how of the lobster industry, demand for Maine exports quickly expanded. Maine-sourced marine products are particularly popular with Asian buyers because of the long-standing expertise of Maine fisheries; the fisheries work sustainably, ensuring a stable and dependable supply.

As a result of this emerging relationship, Maine went from exporting just $100,000 worth of lobsters to China in 2010 to selling $20 million to China and $5.8 million to Hong Kong in 2015. Zhang Qiyue, the Chinese Consul General in New York, pointed out that the ever-growing middle class in China guaranteed that the market for Maine-sourced products would only broaden. Indeed, the growing importance of Maine has attracted the attention of Chinese investors, leading to trade missions and partnerships and furthering opportunities for student exchange and tourism (the Maine Office of Tourism even launched a website in Chinese). In fact, on a 2015 trade mission, Governor LePage celebrated the success and reception of Maine’s marine products in Shanghai and Tokyo.

As of October 2016, the total export of Maine goods rose 5.8%, standing tall above a negative national average among states. The positive developments in Malaysian and Chinese demand for Maine-produced goods portray bountiful economic opportunities.

David Lee is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a Master's Candidate of the Asian Studies program at Georgetown University. 

Tags: economy trade