LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Agriculture officials in Washington and Arkansas are all smiles after the announcement of an agreement that allows American rice to be exported to China.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the agreement Thursday. China produces and consumes the most rice in the world, but until now, the world’s most populous country insisted on strict protocols before allowing any rice imports.
“It's a very, very historic agreement at least for modern times,” said Dr. Robert Coats, economics professor at University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “I mean they really did some heavy, heavy lifting to bring this phytosanitary protocol agreement about.”
A phytosanitary protocol agreement spells out what a country like China wants done to the rice before they allow it in. They have good reason to be cautious.
“They want to make sure from a food security end that year-in and year-out they can feed their population,” Dr. Coats said.
But much of the agreement deals with pests that China doesn’t want introduced in that country. They’ve held off signing even though some of the pests don’t even exist in the U.S. So these negotiations have been one part pest control, many parts politics, at least according to some local growers.
“We have some of the best programs in the world,” said Dow Brantley, second-generation rice grower on his family’s farm in England, Ark. “We're providing the safest most important food in the world, so it wasn't an issue on our end. I think it was just paperwork, protocol and at the end of the day politics.”
The deal won't produce a huge win fall right away, but it opens an important door.
“This is not anything that will just explode overnight,” Brantley said. “This will probably be something that we will be proud of in about five years.”
Geo-politically, this early deal could mean much more later.
“You have the potential now to conduct business where as before, it wasn't even a discussion,” Dr. Coats said.