Officials from the United States and the Peoples' Republic of China will sign a phytosanitary protocol during the week of September 21st when Chinese President Xi Jinping leads a delegation on an official visit to Washington, D.C. Culminating an effort that reaches back more than 15 years, the US Rice Producers Association (USRPA) has been pushing to open the Chinese market to U.S. rice.

In those intervening ten years, China has switched from being a rice exporter to (in recent years) importing two million tons or more of long grain rice. Vietnam has been the origin of most of the Chinese imports, due to a combination of price, proximity, and quality. The U.S. has not been permitted to ship to China because rice was not included in the original negotiations that resulted in the sale of millions of tons of soybeans and cotton and other grains. That now changes with the new phytosanitary protocol.

USRPA applied for funding from USDA/FAS under their Emerging Markets Program to travel to China to determine if there would be demand for U.S. long grain milled rice should it ever be permitted. Over the years, consumer preferences were recorded and analyzed, and the conclusion was obvious — rice milled in the United States would be considered a preferred product deserving of a premium price in the opinion of the growing consumer class in China. In recent years, medium grain rice from both the South and California has been included in these consumer surveys, and the result is the same: "When can we buy it?"

A number of importers and distributors in China have been identified, and it is likely that the newly-permitted trade will get off to a fast start. It is not clear how large the trade could become once the logistics and the commercial terms are perfected, but China could represent a significant boost to the U.S. rice market, which recently has been slammed by the loss of markets and low-priced subsidized foreign competition.

"This has been a long and exhaustive process and sometimes that's the nature of international market development, while I must compliment the USRPA staff and its board members including past Chairmen, B.J. Campbell of Missouri and Ray Stoesser of Texas, who along with officials of the Foreign Agricultural Service and Animal Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA, have not hesitated in pursuing this effort that is so important to our rice farming and milling industry," says Dwight Roberts, President & CEO of the organization.  "Our analysis of the China market goes back to 1998 when at the time no one thought China would ever be a significant importer," added Roberts. 

Recently elected Chairman, Tommy Turner from El Campo, Texas who has plans to travel next month to China is excited about the outlook saying, "our focus has already turned towards working with the identified Chinese buyers and importers while continuing to conduct additional promotional surveys of Chinese consumers," while adding, "this is great news for our farmers and is a shot in the arm for the market that is so sorely needed."

The US Rice Producers Association, representing rice producers in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas, is the only national rice producers' organization comprised by producers, elected by producers and representing producers in all six rice-producing states.