U.S. Rice Industry United in Efforts to Open Chinese Market
DALLAS, TEXAS – At a meeting here yesterday the USA Rice Producers’ Group unanimously passed a motion urging the conclusion of negotiations between the United States and China to establish a phytosanitary agreement that would pave the way for U.S. rice to be exported to China.
The group, representing rice farmers in all six rice states covering close to 90 percent of the U.S. rice crop, offered guidance to U.S. negotiators to help them finalize a deal that would be acceptable and manageable to the U.S. industry.
The negotiations, between USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and their Chinese counterparts (AQSIQ), have dragged on for years and hit snags recently when the Chinese made demands the U.S. industry felt were not based on sound science.
“The Chinese are demanding our industry set traps for insects that do not exist in the United States, and that we set a totally unreasonable number of traps per square foot of storage space,” said John Owen, a Louisiana rice farmer and chairman of the USA Rice Producers’ Group.
The USA Rice Millers’ Association, whose members would be responsible for the trapping, agreed with the producers.
“We’re not opposed to trapping, but, any agreement needs to meet reasonable standards that are consistent with international trade agreement precedents and be based on quantifiable, scientific data consistent with previous USDA/APHIS procedures,” said Chris Crutchfield, a California miller and chairman of the USA Rice Millers’ Association.
Chinese negotiators are also demanding very specific package labeling that is both unprecedented and many felt unfeasible.
“The labeling requirements are not appropriate for inclusion in a phytosanitary protocol at all,” said Dick Ottis, chairman of the USA Rice Merchants’ Association.
The three organizations came together under the industry’s national organization, USA Rice, to adopt the joint resolution.
Dow Brantley, an Arkansas rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice, was pleased with the industry’s unity and strong statement that both supports, and guides, U.S. negotiators.
“There’s no question we’d like to participate in the Chinese market, but these ever-evolving demands being made by the Chinese government were making it ever-less likely we were going to actually gain access to the market,” Brantley said. “We appreciate the efforts of the U.S. negotiators on our behalf, and are happy to provide input as a united industry.”
Brantley said the market has great potential for the U.S. industry, and that his group has been working for years to establish trade relationships and line up customers for the day the phytosanitary deal is complete. However, he says if the final deal is based on unreasonable, unscientific demands that can never be truly satisfied, there’s little point to agreeing.
“The notion that you can agree to something with the Chinese government now and fix it later is very naïve,” he said. “Once the ink dries on that deal, the Chinese are going to hold us to it, so it needs to be a deal we all can live with today and that actually allows us to start sending our rice over there.”