Ag Trade: Amidst Chinese Uncertainties, Rice Sees Possibilities

U.S. trade with China returned to the headlines this week after a weekend of talks between the U.S. and Chinese governments.  U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the looming trade war between the two countries was being put on hold, and while the specifics of the agreement were not announced, the Chinese government committed to “significantly increase” its purchases of American products and services.

According to Mnuchin, the two countries also agreed to “meaningful increases” of U.S. agriculture and energy exports.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross took a cautious approach to these changes stating, “This is not a definitive agreement.  This is what we hope will be a path forward.  If it doesn’t work the tariffs will go into effect.  So nothing’s been lost at all.”

At a U.S.-China Agricultural Trade Forum hosted here on Monday, researchers, industry representatives, and policymakers discussed the current agriculture trade situation between the United States and China.

On all three fronts – research, industry, and policy – there was general agreement that trust and transparency are the most important factors to achieve safe, effective food trade systems.  These characteristics will bring stability to the process that has become very unpredictable in the past several months.

As if underlining the discussion of uncertainty of the ag trade world, panelists learned of a series of President Donald Trump’s tweets published just that morning in which he wrote, “China has agreed to buy massive amounts of ADDITIONAL Farm/Agricultural Products – would be one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years!” and “Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce.”

Across the board it was agreed that these statements must be approached cautiously.  But if the claims are accurate, panelists insisted that in addition to ensuring an initial bulk purchase of U.S. agricultural products materializes, it must also be tied to a plan for the future.

Against this backdrop, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney is leading a trade delegation to China this week. The trade mission is visiting Guangzhou and Shenzhen, two cities where more than 70 percent of rice imports enter China.

USA Rice Vice President International Sarah Moran is with the delegation and said, “The traders I’ve met with here are optimistic for an imminent improvement in trade relations between our two countries and are anxious to import U.S. rice. They value our rice for its high quality, strong food safety standards, and the fact that we don’t grow any GM rice.”

USA Rice has confirmed that the U.S. embassy in Beijing delivered to Chinese officials earlier this month completed food safety questionnaires from U.S. suppliers and asked that China allow imports from the United States to begin without delay.

While the exact impact on U.S. rice is unclear, it is very clear that thanks to continued pressure from USA Rice, the U.S. and Chinese governments appear as close as ever to ironing out their differences and actually beginning the export of U.S. rice to the largest rice consumer on earth.

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