Bang the Trade Drum Loudly

USA Rice seeks fair and equitable trade for our industry

Betsy Ward

President/CEO USA Rice Federation

Now that the Farm Bill is behind us, the U.S. rice industry adds renewed focus to a key priority – trade. Producer, miller and export leaders will meet in Washington at the end of this month for the annual USA Rice Government Affairs Conference (GAC), which will cap a month of trade activities.

Nearly one-half of annual U.S. rice production is exported, but high tariffs in Japan and other Asian countries; export subsidies in Brazil; high domestic support prices in Vietnam and India; and phytosanitary barriers in China, all hold back U.S. rice. Enforcement of existing trade agreements and negotiating strong and comprehensive new deals are touchstones of USA Rice’s trade activities, but as with the Farm Bill, successes in trade come at a frustratingly slow pace and require constant education of our government officials.

Domestic And Export Efforts USA Rice held briefings for the Congressional Rice Caucus in early February and provided an overview of the importance of exports to the U.S. rice industry, the current trade challenges facing rice producers and exporters, steps the U.S. rice industry is taking to confront these challenges and opportunities for additional engagement by Congress. The seminar distilled several years of work on the domestic support policies of key U.S. competitors like Vietnam, Thailand and India, as well as Brazil’s damaging export subsidy program called PEP. Our results raise serious questions about the compliance of these policies and programs with the obligations undertaken by each country in the World Trade Organization. We are also seeking Congressional direction to the U.S. International Trade Commission for a comprehensive factfinding study of the impacts of distortions in the global rice market caused by government support programs in key competitor countries and the impact on the U.S. industry.

Barriers are more than tariffs, and USA Rice continues to lead in efforts for a U.S.-China phytosanitary protocol to open this market. Close cooperation with USDA plant health officials is helping our government negotiate a fair and commercially viable agreement with China.

Importance Of TPP And T-TIP Two current trade negotiations offer substantial opportunities for U.S. rice. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the best vehicle in nearly two decades to improve the quantity and quality of U.S. rice access in Japan. However, Japanese negotiators are dragging their feet in some key areas. Every country has sensitive agricultural commodities, but this is the nature of trade agreements. USA Rice continues to pressure U.S. negotiators to resist giving Japan a “pass.” Rice must be included in a TPP agreement and access improvements must be substantial.

Negotiations for a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) is just as important as TPP. T-TIP is a free trade negotiation with the European Union. The EU was once a large market for U.S. rice, and elimination of the EU’s substantial and discriminatory rice import duties will give a strong boost to market recovery following the LibertyLink incident of 2006. During GAC, we will educate and seek commitments for action from members of Congress, their staff and administration officials about the market access barriers facing U.S. rice; about widespread noncompliance by key rice exporter countries of international trade obligations; and about the necessity for strong trade agreements. We will continue to pound the drum of fair and equitable trade that is so vital for our industry.

Reach Betsy Ward at bward@usarice.com.