MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – A delegation of U.S. rice industry leaders has wrapped up a series of successful meetings here with all segments of the Mexican rice industry against the backdrop of heightened tension and uncertainty for the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty both industries adamantly support.
The 12-member USA Rice delegation, led by USA Rice Chairman Brian King and President & CEO Betsy Ward, began the week with a briefing by U.S. Embassy officials, followed by a meeting with the Mexican Rice Council (MRC), the most important and influential producer and miller organization in Mexico.
Discussions centered around the impact of the Mexican government’s move to drop tariffs to zero for countries with which Mexico does not currently have a free trade agreement; the need for a coordinated approach to any renegotiation or “modernizing” of NAFTA; and the current crop situation in both Mexico and the United States.
While most Asian rices do not enjoy the quality, safety, or consumer acceptance that U.S. rice does, the tariff issue is seen by both the U.S. and Mexican industries as potentially paving the way for greater imports from Asian exporters who already heavily subsidize their domestic rice industries.
The delegation heard time and again how NAFTA has helped U.S. rice compete, and how the U.S. and Mexican industries must continue to make the case with their respective governments about the benefits of NAFTA that far outweigh any disruption in trade that withdrawal or significant modernization could bring.
“Mexico takes 20 percent of all U.S. rice exports – 16 percent of all U.S. long grain rice – and that is because of NAFTA, not in spite of it,” explained King. “We are grateful to have been able to meet with so many of our valued customers here and we heard them loud and clear and agree: ‘NAFTA works!’”
"The direct and positive impact that NAFTA has had on U.S. rice exports and on jobs and prosperity in Mexico and the United States must be continually emphasized,” said Ward. “We will be working together to preserve the benefits of NAFTA for the U.S. rice industry, as well as for our Mexican partners.”
The delegation also met with key Mexican rice millers, packers, distributors, and traders to express appreciation for the business relationships that have been developed over many years with Mexico.
“Strong promotion of increased rice consumption in Mexico supports the objectives of both USA Rice and the Mexican Rice Council, and cooperation on promotion will be strengthened as a result of these meetings,” said John Owen, Louisiana rice farmer and chair of the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board, who attended the meetings.
“The theme of common goals for our industries was reiterated in every meeting,” said Todd Burich, chair of the USA Rice Trade Policy Subcommittee for Latin America. “We accomplished a great deal here this week and I think we all head home with a greater appreciation for just how interdependent we are, how committed to free and open trade between our countries we are, and how we will work with our respective governments to effectively convey those truths.”