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Agreement Sows Seeds for First-Ever U.S. Rice Exports to China

By Yang Ge
China may soon be able to import rice from the U.S. for the first time because of a new agreement between the two countries, but no timeframe has been announced. Photo: IC
China may soon be able to import rice from the U.S. for the first time because of a new agreement between the two countries, but no timeframe has been announced. Photo: IC

In a move with big symbolic overtones, the U.S. could soon export rice to China for the first time after the two sides agreed on a protocol for such trade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a major U.S. trade organization.

The agreement caps more than a decade of effort toward such exports, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. The department did not say what steps must still be taken before such exports can actually begin, nor did it provide a timeframe.

A press officer with China’s Ministry of Commerce had no comment on the issue when contacted by Caixin on Friday.

“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,” Perdue said.

Trade organization USA Rice also applauded the development.

“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 USA Rice’s 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 (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) to make that happen in the quickest and most efficient way.”

China consumes the equivalent of the entire U.S. rice crop about every two weeks, and is expected to import 4.8 million metric tons (5.3 tons) of milled rice in 2017-18, making it by far the world’s largest import market, according to USA Rice.

The development comes as U.S. President Donald Trump pressures Beijing to open China’s markets to more American products in a bid to create more balanced trade. That includes access to more agricultural products, an area where the U.S. is a global leader.

In a related development, China recently resumed imports of U.S. beef, following a 14-year ban. Last month, China also approved imports of new varieties of genetically modified corn and soybeans, widening the door for genetically engineered crops developed by U.S. agrochemical giants.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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