Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., called on U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to provide assurances that U.S.-grown rice would not be excluded from future U.S. trade agreements. Crawford's concern stemmed from the bad precedent set when rice was omitted at the last minute from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) during those negotiations several years ago. Crawford represents the largest rice-producing district in Arkansas, the nation's top rice-farming state.

Kirk told Crawford that the United States will continue to push access for U.S.-grown rice to South Korea and said all negotiating partners in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks have been asked to "put everything on the table."

According to Kirk, South Korea is very protective of its rice market, but he is encouraged that the United States has a minimum access agreement with the country that allows for 50,000 metric tons of U.S. rice to be exported there annually. South Korea imported 40,000 metric tons of U.S. rice in excess of the minimum access amount last year, Kirk said.

The exchange occurred during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on the free trade agreements the United States has negotiated with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. Provisions for expanded U.S. rice access into the Colombian and Panamanian rice markets are specified in those agreements, but not in the South Korea document.

USA Rice Federation advocates that FTAs entered into by the United States must be comprehensive and include all products.