WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014 - Members of USA Rice Federation left their annual Government Affairs Conference last week determined to keep rice front and center during any international trade talks, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Rice growers and millers attending the conference in Washington expressed concern that U.S. trade negotiators may allow Japan and other Asian nations to continue to protect rice and other agricultural products as the TPP talks move forward. Recent negotiations that concluded late last month in Singapore failed to produce an agreement.
Carl Brothers, a senior vice president with Riceland Foods Inc. in Stuttgart, Ark., and chairman of USA Rice’s International Trade Policy Committee, said the U.S. rice industry, which exports about half of its production, remembers bitterly how the product was left out of the free trade agreement with South Korea.
“We want it known loud and clear that we are not going to be left out of the TPP and future treaties,” Brothers said, before USA Rice members fanned out across the Capitol to deliver their message to lawmakers.
Rice farmers appreciate what free trade pacts mean to U.S. agriculture. They note that before a free trade agreement was signed with Colombia, sales to the South American country were negligible. Now, said Brothers, exports have reached 80,000 metric tons a year.
“What we’ve hearing is that completing the TPP would expose U.S. rice to a billion new consumers,’’ said L.G. Raun, who grows rice with his wife Linda on their LR Farms in El Campo, Texas. Linda Raun is a member of the Federation’s board of directors and L.G. serves on the board of USA Rice’s Producers’ Group.
The TPP is being negotiated by the U.S. and 11 other countries with the aim of creating one of the world’s biggest free-trade zones. The 12 nations -- Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore the U.S. and Vietnam -- account for 40 percent of global economic output and about 30 percent of world trade. Officials say one of the sticking points in the talks is Japan’s insistence on protecting its agricultural products, including beef and pork, dairy, wheat, rice and sugar, while the U.S. demands full market access. Japan’s tariffs on some rice products are as high as 800 percent, according to USA Rice.
“We’re not asking them to go to zero right away,” said Chris Crutchfield, the CEO of American Commodity Co. in Williams, Calif., and the chairman of USA Rice’s miller’s association. “We want to be flexible, but we’d like to see the quantity of U.S. rice Japan allows in increased, and the quality of access improved.”
Generally, USA Rice wants the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office to take a tougher stance with countries that violate international rules. Exporters like Thailand, the world’s biggest rice shipper, and Vietnam, India and Brazil are supporting their rice sectors well in excess of World Trade Organization limits and USA Rice is urging the U.S. to press a case with the WTO. The group is also working with the House Ways and Means Committee to seek an International Trade Commission investigation into “unfair and prohibited domestic and export policies” in these and other countries.
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