USITC Shines Light on Impact of Residue Limits on Exports, Including Rice

Maestro conducts musicians from different countries playing different instruments, Sean Kelly illustration-200820
All together now (illustration by Sean Kelly)
Aug 20, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC – Late last month, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released a long-awaited first volume report on the global economic impact of missing and low pesticide maximum residue levels (MRL) on international agricultural trade.  The USITC solicited comments from across the U.S. agriculture industry, following a request by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and focusing on the financial toll that MRLs take on commodity export markets.

Both USA Rice and the California Rice Commission provided comments to the USITC in December 2019, outlining concerns in several countries where a lack of an MRL or low MRLs for crop protection tools used by U.S. rice farmers has impacted U.S. rice exports.  As pest pressures grow with the introduction of new invasive species and pests continue to develop resistance to several significant crop protectants, it has become increasingly important to have access to a full menu of products deemed safe by U.S. regulators and researchers.

In the U.S., crop protectants are registered and residue limits are set by the Environmental Protection Agency following a thorough, lengthy risk assessment process looking at effects on human, animal, and environmental health.  While this science-based process is cumbersome, it has proven effective.  The United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius Commission is also responsible for setting non-binding international standards, using a science-based method and relying on significant research from around the world.

“Unfortunately, many countries do not use science-based risk assessments, nor do they defer to the U.S. or Codex standards, leading to arbitrary limits based on social research instead of science,” said David Petter, Arkansas farmer and chair of the USA Rice Regulatory Committee.  “Japan, for example, tests U.S. rice and other imports for nearly 600 chemicals, when we can account for just over 40 crop protection products registered for rice use in the U.S.”

The European Union is another market that is notorious for setting arbitrarily low residue levels as a result of social pressure from non-governmental organizations.  These limits provide little or no room for tolerance if a crop is affected by inadvertent drift from neighbors or other factors outside of a U.S. farmer’s control.

“We appreciate the USITC’s inclusion of input from USA Rice and the California Rice Commission in developing this report, and we are looking forward to reviewing the second volume set to be published early next year,” said Petter.  “As more countries have joined the World Trade Organization and started reducing their tariffs and opening their markets up, many countries have turned toward non-tariff barriers like MRLs that inhibit the flow of imports, increasing the visibility of this issue.”

USA Rice submitted additional input for the USITC’s second volume of the report last month.  The USITC reports will ultimately be used as guidance for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on the best actions to take on behalf of U.S. agricultural exports.