For the first time ever, Chinese consumers will now be able to order a heaping bowl of U.S. rice. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the USDA has reached agreement with Chinese officials on final details of a protocol to allow the United States to begin exporting rice to China.
“This is another great day for U.S. agriculture and, in particular, for our rice growers and millers, who can now look forward to gaining access to the Chinese market. This market represents an exceptional opportunity today, with enormous potential for growth in the future,” said Perdue. “The agreement with China has been in the works for more than a decade and I’m pleased to see it finally come to fruition, especially knowing how greatly it will benefit our growers and industry.”
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rice. Since 2013, it has also been the largest importer, with imports reaching nearly 5 million tons last year. When the new rice protocol is fully implemented, the U.S. rice industry will have access to this critical market, significantly expanding export opportunities. U.S. rice exports can begin following the completion of an audit of U.S. rice facilities by China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
“This is a tremendous leap towards selling U.S. rice in China,” said USA Rice Chairman Brian King. “Today’s signing caps a decade of effort by the rice industry and the U.S. government to open access to the world’s largest rice importer. President Trump’s focus on reducing trade deficits with big partners like China put the spotlight on rice, and Secretary Perdue told us he would get this done, and he did. We’re thankful for the administration’s commitment – from the President on down – to U.S. rice farmers and marketers.”
“The President and Secretary Perdue have opened the door; now it’s time to move to our technical to-do list so that rice shipments can occur,” said Carl Brothers, chairman of the USA Rice International Trade Policy Committee. “We know China wants to send a team here to inspect mills and facilities certified to ship to China, and we are working with USDA to make that happen in the quickest and most efficient way.”
The protocol, that is the most complex rice phytosanitary agreement the U.S. has ever entered in to, contains an operational workplan that spells out the responsibilities of companies wishing to export in order to protect against the introduction of certain pests into China. USA Rice led efforts over the past two years to assemble a list of interested exporters, and with USDA to certify compliance with the workplan.
“The focus of our work is now on supporting a successful visit by China’s inspectors,” said USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward. “We waited a decade for the protocol to be signed and our members are anxious to meet the demand of China’s consumers for safe, high-quality U.S. rice.”
Ward said China consumes the equivalent of the entire U.S. rice crop every 13 days and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects China to import 4.8 million metric tons of milled rice in 2017/2018, by far the world’s largest import market. Imports have surged since the beginning of this decade, and have recently been between 4.5 million and 5 million metric tons annually. China opened its rice market when the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, but U.S. rice was barred from the market because of the lack of a phytosanitary protocol between the two governments. Southeast Asia supplies much of China’s import demand; a situation that will likely continue.
Demand for U.S. milled rice, at least initially, is expected to be strongest in coastal areas among higher income consumers and in the hotel and restaurant trade.
“Food safety is a major issue for China’s consumers, and U.S. rice is well positioned as a safe, high quality food,” according to Chris Crutchfield, chairman of the USA Rice Asia/Turkey Promotion Subcommittee. “We have promotion programs up and running in China in anticipation of today’s signing and exports to come. We’ll tailor our promotion activities going forward to include large trade seminars here and in China to educate Chinese consumers about the types and qualities of U.S. rice. We will also focus on quality and the capabilities of our industry in our stepped up trade servicing activities.”
“Today’s news is a shot in the arm for our industry and couldn’t come at a better time. The President and Secretary Perdue’s leadership was critical, and we thank them and their team again. We know that market access in China is difficult, and rice shipments will not happen tomorrow, but we are much closer to a meeting China’s market demand with U.S. rice,” concluded Ward.