USDA must begin including rough rice in its P.L. 480 and other food aid program allocations, according to language in the Fiscal Year 2001 Agricultural Appropriations Conference Report.
The legislation, which was signed by President Clinton on Oct. 28, contains a number of much-publicized measures, including $3.6 billion in disaster aid and the first easing of economic sanctions on trade with Cuba.
But, it also includes a number of lesser-known provisions that will be coming to light over the next several weeks. One of those addresses what the U.S. Rice Producers Association claims has been a discriminatory policy against government-sponsored shipments of rough rice. The bill's language says:
"The Secretary of Agriculture shall use currently available authorities to ensure that all forms of rice (rough, brown and milled) are fairly represented in all Department of Agriculture food aid, export market development, export promotion and other export related programs."
"We are pleased that the House of Representatives, the Senate and the President have all endorsed this rice export policy clarification," said Nolen Canon, rice farmer and chairman of the U.S. Rice Producers Association.
"This language will ensure that rice is no longer singled out from among our basic agricultural commodities to be discriminated against in the administration of USDA's export programs."
The Houston, Texas-based U.S. Rice Producers has complained that although rough rice exports represented about 30 percent of commercial rice shipments in the 1999-2000 marketing year, USDA's P.L. 480 and other food aid programs "do not reflect this market reality.
"GSM export credit guarantees are a USDA program that enhances exports without regard to the form of the exported commodity," said Dwight Roberts, chief executive officer of the Rice Producers. "Exporters shipping rough, brown or milled rice can all take advantage of this program."
In other P.L. 480 programs involving soybeans and wheat, for example, export customers can request and receive those commodities in their unprocessed form.
"Unfortunately, for whatever reason, these programs continue to be administered with an unofficial bias against rough rice exports, despite the fact that rough rice may be the preferred form for many destinations," says Roberts.
"I want to be very clear on one point," said Canon. "The Rice Producers Association does not support the displacement of U.S. milled rice exports with rough rice exports. We support increasing all exports of rice, whether on straight commercial terms or under government export programs."
He said U.S. growers believe there is a continuing export market demand for rough rice and for milled rice. "In some markets, U.S. rough rice can meet these demands on a price competitive basis while our milled product cannot. Our government programs will best serve the interests of the entire rice industry only if they are administered to meet all of these demands."
"For fiscal year 2000, none of the more than 153,000 metric tons of rice allocated under the P.L. 480 program was in the form of rough rice - despite the fact that importing countries asked to buy 30,000 tons of it," said Roberts. "If we do not provide such customers with rice in the form they desire, they will go elsewhere."