After efforts to normalize trade relations between the United States and Cuba were stalled by President Donald Trump, members of Arkansas’s Congressional Delegation have set their sights on a new trade partner: China.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is beginning a two-day agriculture tour of farms in the rice-producing regions of east and northeast Arkansas. A statement from the governor’s office says he plans to discuss critical issues for the agriculture community, including flooding this year, row crop farming, and the possibility of rice sales to China.
Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, says the untapped Chinese market has the potential to enhance the role that the over $6 billion rice industry plays in Arkansas’s economy.
“We’ve got a tremendous opportunity in front of us. I think China consumes about 80 percent of the world’s rice, and Arkansas being the leading rice producing state in the U.S., we now have a new market that we have not been in in decades,” Preston said in an interview with Jonesboro NPR member station KASU.
Arkansas cultivates more rice than all other U.S. states combined. Recent flooding in eastern Arkansas accounted for a slight drop in production this year, with around one million acres harvested.
“What’s interesting about this is, despite [Arkansas] being the number one rice producing state and producing half of all the rice in the United States, China could consume our entire crop in about two weeks time,” Preston said.
The proposed trade deal comes soon after China said it would begin imports of beef from the United States. Preston says imported Arkansas rice would appeal to a wealthier demographic in China.
“When you send this rice over to China, it’s going to be marketed as a very high-end rice,” Preston said. “You go to a high-end grocery store and buy a commodity from another country and it’s marketed higher and you pay a little bit more, you pay a premium for it, that’s what Arkansas rice is going to be in China.”
China consumes about 225 pounds of rice per person, per year. Preston says he expects all trade avenues to China to be open by early next year.