South Korea, in a deal struck with the Trump administration last November, agreed to buy at least 132,304 metric tons of U.S. rice annually, and the country is getting close to meeting that promise for 2020 according to U.S. government and industry officials.

South Korea, in a new tender completed Wednesday night, purchased 96,671 metric tons of U.S. rice — all of it California medium grain — worth about $90 million, according to the USA Rice Federation. That puts the total amount of U.S. rice purchased by South Korea this year at 110,704 metric tons.

It also puts South Korea in arm’s reach of fulfilling the country-specific-quota (CSQ) that the government agreed to last year. Another South Korean tender for U.S. rice is planned, but a date has not yet been set, says USA Rice spokesman Michael Klein.

Peter Bachmann, vice president of international affairs for the USA Rice Federation, called the South Korean tender a big win that happened despite the challenges of implementing a new quota and logistical difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are looking forward to contracting the final tonnage to fulfill this inaugural year of the CSQ agreement and continuing to improve our industry’s cooperation with our important Korean customers,” Bachmann told Agri-Pulse.

U.S. rice farmers, who depend heavily on the ability to export their grain, were hit hard when South Korea ended its quota that was specific for U.S. rice about four years ago. South Korea replaced it with a tariff rate quota that was open to all countries in the World Trade Organization.

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U.S. rice growers had hoped to get back a country-specific quota when talks began in 2017 with South Korea to renegotiate the free trade agreement between the two countries, but negotiators failed to reach a deal.

But a deal was struck in November last year. The countries signed it on Dec. 1 and it was implemented Jan. 1.

"This agreement gives our farmers the largest volume of guaranteed market access for rice in Korea that the United States has ever enjoyed," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said last year when South Korea agreed to the new quota for U.S. rice. “It will prove enormously beneficial for American producers and their customers in Korea, who will enjoy access to high quality and cost competitive U.S. rice."

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