Costa Rica has joined the Central American Free Trade Agreement, providing greater access for U.S. rice. The USA Rice Federation has praised the successful completion of the negotiations between the United States and Costa Rica.

“Costa Rica's participation in CAFTA finalizes a strong regional agreement that guarantees access for U.S. rough and milled rice,” said USA Rice Chairman Gary Sebree. “The Central American market is critical to the economic future of rice producers and millers. With the addition of Costa Rica, CAFTA now includes a market that currently imports some 500,000 tons of U.S. rice.”

As with the other CAFTA countries - El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua - Costa Rica has agreed to establish tariff rate quotas for both milled and rough rice, which will enter with no tariffs. The tariff rate quotas will grow over time and duties on all types of U.S. rice will phase out over a 20-year period.

“Rice was one of the last issues to be negotiated, and I want to thank the U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Robert Zoellick, and Ambassador Allen Johnson, USTR's chief agricultural negotiator, for insisting on and delivering improved rice market access,” continued Sebree.

President Bush is expected to notify Congress of his intent to formally sign the CAFTA agreement early this year. The House and Senate must approve the agreement before it can take effect. Each of the Central American countries has ratification procedures as well.

The USA Rice Federation is the national advocate for all segments of the U.S. rice industry, conducting activities to influence government programs, developing and initiating programs to increase worldwide demand for U.S. rice, and providing other services to increase industry profitability for all segments. For more information, visit www.usarice.com