A USA Rice Federation official said Wednesday that the trade group is trying to help U.S. officials take the last steps necessary to open China to U.S. rice shipments.
Robert Cummings, USA Rice’s chief operating officer, said the group was “pretty sure” the U.S. and China have reached what he called a “technical agreement” to allow U.S. producers access to the Chinese market.
“We need to make the jump from a technical agreement to a political decision in China that they are ready to import U.S. rice,” Cummings said at the 22nd Agribusiness Conference at Arkansas State University.
USA Rice announced last month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and China had reached an agreement on so-called phytosanitary measures, which require U.S. mills to meet certain pest-control and other health standards. The USDA later issued a statement saying that the negotiations were in a “last phase” and that no agreement had been signed.
Until the agreement is signed, China will not accept U.S. rice. Industry officials have said that affluent Chinese want to buy high-quality U.S. rice in grocery-store ready packages.
Cummings said in an interview that he didn’t know what was delaying the final agreement. He said representatives of his trade group had met with USDA officials as recently as Tuesday in an effort to work out any remaining kinks.
“What we’re asking the administration is, ‘What is the game plan for that?'” he said. “How do we go from a technical agreement to implementation?”
Cummings told the conference that the USDA would begin inspecting mills that have indicated a willingness to comply with the Chinese standards later this month. He said the USDA would send the results of its inspections to China and that China might then perform its own reviews.
He said the fact that USDA was proceeding with its inspections made him optimistic the agreement could be finalized in the near future.
Cummings said that China, with a population of 1.37 billion people, imports between 2.5 million and 5.5 million tons of rice annually. He did not offer an estimate of how much rice China might buy from the U.S., but Arkansas rice industry officials have indicated that bulk shipments aren’t likely anytime soon.
China, which is both the top producer and importer of rice, is the leading importer of all U.S. agricultural commodities, said David Schweikhardt, a Michigan State University economist. U.S. agricultural exports to China total $28 billion annually, he said, with Canada coming in second on the list at $22 billion annually.
Schweikhardt said the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and eleven Pacific Rim countries was expected to increase U.S. agricultural exports by 5 percent by 2025. Agricultural imports to the United States, by contrast, are expected to increase by 2 percent over the same period if the agreement is adopted, he said.
Schweikhardt said it was unlikely Congress would vote on the trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration until after a new president takes office in 2017. China is not a partner in the trade pact.
He said many sitting members of Congress have never voted on a trade deal, which he said created a “huge element of uncertainty” for the agreement.
(Source – http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2016/feb/11/rice-group-taking-role-in-china-deal-20/)