The Chinese lobster market, which has been so important for both US and Canadian lobster exporters, was slow during the first phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian lobsters have fetched high prices on the Chinese market as US lobsters have been limited in supply and costly because of the 25 percent tariff imposed by China since 2018. Canadian lobsters were profiting from this situation, as were lobsters from Cuba. However, the tariff on US lobsters was eased a bit in January 2020, when the 25 percent tariff on US lobsters was lifted. Chinese purchases from the United States of America increased in the last months of 2020. As China lifted some of the restrictions on daily life, for example by opening up restaurants again, demand for lobsters increased. The United States of America exported lobsters worth USD 127 million in 2020, an increase of 49 percent compared to 2019. During the month of December 2020, US lobster exports to China amounted to USD 31 million, making it the biggest lobster sales to China in a single month since 2018.
US sales of lobsters to China were most likely helped by the fact that relations between China and Australia cooled off at the end of 2020, and Beijing imposed a ban on imports from Australia. The Australian rock lobster industry switched to selling lobsters on the domestic market, but as a result prices fell markedly, from about AUD 100 (USD 78) per kg to just AUD 30 (USD 23.40) per kg. Total Australian rock lobster exports in November and December 2020 dropped dramatically, while New Zealand took over much of China’s trade from Australia. Another incident that hurt Australian lobster exports to China was the re-entry of the United States of America on the Chinese market at the end of 2020. During the months of November and December, China imported 3 223 tonnes of fresh and live US lobsters worth USD 51.2 million, by far the largest shipments during a two-month period since 2018. North American lobsters are very popular in China, and as US lobsters were allowed back on the market, many importers switched to the Homarus species instead of the rock lobsters. Demand is good for live lobsters, and the re-entry of the US market will inevitably increase trade. While imports went up, prices fell by 5 percent, though. Global trade in lobsters declined during 2020. Total exports declined by 15.8 percent, to 166 432 tonnes. Australia was hardest hit of the top exporters, with a 27.6 percent decline. The United States of America and Canada also suffered declining numbers by 18.8 percent and 13.6 percent, respectively. Canadian exports declined to all the major markets. EU imports were down by 15.5 percent, to 21 429 tonnes during 2020 compared to 25 361 tonnes in 2019. However, Chinese imports of lobster went up by 5.4 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, to 48 367 tonnes, indicating that the Chinese market is recovering and returning to more normal conditions. While Canada saw a decline of 19.1 percent in shipments to China, the United States of America experienced a 267 percent increase in shipments, albeit from a very low base: from 1 752 tonnes in 2019 to 6 426 tonnes in 2020.