USA Rice representatives traveled to Puerto Rico last month to meet with U.S. customs officials and the trade in response to mislabeled rice supplied by China’s state grain trader entering that market.
Puerto Rico is an important medium grain outlet traditionally supplied by milled rice from the mid-South, but USA Rice believes an importer there is now improperly labeling the country of origin of a rice brand and likely marketing short grain rice as medium grain, both violations of U.S. regulations.
“As the U.S. rice industry continues its decade-plus fight to sell rice to China, China’s state trader is taking advantage of the open U.S. market to capture a significant share of the business in Puerto Rico, with what appears to be rice improperly labeled and being sold well below prevailing world prices,” said USA Rice COO Bob Cummings who led the mission to defend this important market.
Cummings explained that U.S. Customs regulations require the country of origin of imported goods be clearly identified to U.S. consumers, but that the rice in question is labeled, “Product of China and/or USA,” which is not allowed.
“We made our case to U.S. Customs officials in San Juan and asked for appropriate enforcement,” he said. “The rice from China also appears to be short grain, but is packaged and labeled as medium grain, and we intend to pursue this labeling violation as well.”
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“It appears someone is trying to mislead American consumers here with at the very least ambiguous labeling if not outright false labeling,” said Bobby Hanks, a Louisiana miller and Chair of USA Rice’s International Trade Policy Committee. “And then you look at the impossibly low prices being offered and it’s hard to conclude they are doing anything other than trying to steal this market out from underneath us.”
The U.S. Customs district of San Juan, Puerto Rico reports imports of 22,271 metric tons of milled rice from China in the first 11 months of 2018, nearly 10 times the amount during the same period of 2017. Imports from China were negligible in the preceding years.
“We will aggressively pursue these violations to restore this market for U.S. rice against a competitor who continues to not play by the rules,” Cummings concluded.