China has agreed to open its domestic market for U.S. rice exports for the first time in history after a new trade deal was agreed to. Officials from the nations finalized a protocol to allow for the first-ever American shipments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement. Shipments to China could start later this year or early next year.
The move comes after years of negotiations. Over the years, a variety of political, cultural, bureaucratic, and economic obstacles stood in the way of American farmers accessing the Chinese market. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement, “This market represents an exceptional opportunity today, with enormous potential for growth in the future.”
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rice. China also became the world’s largest importer last year, with about 5 million tons of rice bought from other nations. China has acknowledged its need for foreign shipments to meet the growing demands of its consumers and has increasingly turned to imports in recent years to meet domestic demand. Vietnam and Thailand are already major rice exporters to China.
The move could be a boon to American rice farmers, who have struggled with sluggish prices and oversupply for years. According to trade group USA Rice, American rice farmers produce about 9 million tons of rice a year, roughly the amount Chinese consumers can eat in about two weeks. America currently exports between 3 million and 4 million tons a year.
The opening of the market is contingent upon inspection and approval of U.S. facilities by Chinese inspection and quarantine officials. Those inspections are expected to focus particularly on insect trapping and record-keeping requirements. Chinese officials are concerned about the possibility of certain types of pests being introduced in China by rice imports.
President Trump has made reducing the U.S. trade deficit a central issue in his campaign. He has specifically called out Beijing for what he considers to be unfair trading practices. American trade officials are currently negotiating with China on a variety of trade issues.
The rice deal comes two months after the U.S. Commerce Department announced a deal that will allow American cattle ranchers to sell their beef in China starting later this year. No American imports of beef have been allowed in China since the mad cow disease breakout in 2003. China is also approving more biotech products and increasing U.S. natural gas imports.