WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. rice industry convened their annual Government Affairs Conference here yesterday with board and strategy meetings to be followed up with two days of Capitol Hill and Administration meetings. In remarks to the group, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue praised the industry for its outstanding commitment to conservation and made clear to everyone that he knows how important trade is to agriculture – but particularly rice.
“The Secretary is well-aware that about half of our annual crop is exported each year; it was comforting to hear him say that he is aware of the negative impact retaliatory tariffs are having on agriculture and us specifically,” said Charley Mathews, Jr., California rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice. “Ag is frequently one of the first victims of a trade war, and with the current disputes we are in – with China, Mexico, and the European Union in particular – we are feeling it.”
Perdue pointed to recent positive trade developments, such as successful tenders to supply rice to Iraq and China clearing final hurdles that could translate to big business for U.S. rice exporters soon. He also shared that a priority of his is to secure Congressional approval for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that is slated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“We strongly support Congressional approval of USMCA; but no NAFTA and no USMCA is not an option for us,” said Betsy Ward, president & CEO of USA Rice. “That’s a message we are carrying into all of our meetings with Members of Congress and the Administration.”
Ward said that while U.S. agriculture revenue is expected to grow by $400 million under USMCA, a complete withdrawal from NAFTA with no replacement deal could cost the ag sector more than $9.3 billion.
“With Mexico as our top market and Canada as our number four market these agreements are crucial to the future of the U.S. rice industry,” she said. “Secretary Perdue understands this and we thank him for fighting for us.”
Click here to watch our interview with Secretary Perdue.