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Colombia FTA could help sell more U.S. rice

The USA Rice Federation says the new U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement could mean increased sales of U.S. rice – thanks, in part, to the persistence of the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief agricultural negotiator Richard Crowder.

USA Rice leaders said Colombia had sought to minimize access for U.S. rice in the new free trade agreement that was announced in Washington Feb. 27. Rice was one of the last items to “close” in the negotiations, they said.

“We congratulate Ambassador Rob Portman, the U.S. Trade Representative; Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns; and their negotiators for increasing access for U.S. rice in Colombia,” said Lee Adams, chairman of the USA Rice Federation and president of American Rice, Inc. of Freeport, Texas.

“Ambassador Richard Crowder with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office deserves particular credit for leading the U.S. team to reach a good agreement in the face of strong resistance from Colombia’s negotiators,” Adams said.

Crowder is a former undersecretary of agricultural for farm and foreign agricultural services. His most recent position before President Bush nominated him to serve in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office was serving as president and CEO of the American Seed Trade Association.

“While the U.S.-Colombia FTA has a long transition period to free trade, U.S. rice producers and exporters picked-up near term gains via a large, duty-free, tariff rate quota,” said Paul T. Combs, a Kennett, Mo., rice producer and chairman of the USA Rice Producers’ Group, a member organization of the federation.

FTA improvement

“This FTA is an improvement over some preceding FTAs as far as rice is concerned, and we will be vigilant as the implementation details are negotiated to make sure we don’t loose any benefits,” Combs said.

The U.S. Congress and the Colombian legislature must still approve the FTA.

The U.S.-Colombia FTA establishes an initial tariff rate quota of 79,000 metric tons, milled basis, for U.S. rice, with Colombian imports of U.S. rice being duty free within the TRQ.

U.S. rice exports to Colombia averaged just less than 6,460 tons per year in 2001-2005. An out-of-quota duty of 80 percent is charged on imports above the TRQ. The TRQ, under which all types and forms of U.S. rice are eligible for import, increases by 4.5 percent annually for 18 years until free trade in rice is achieved in year 19, when the over-quota duty rate declines to zero.

The rice TRQ will be administered by an export trading company with joint representation by the Colombian and U.S. industries. Revenues from the company will be shared equally.

If Colombia negotiates trade provisions with a third country that provides better access for rice than provided in the FTA with the United States, U.S. rice automatically receives the same preferential tariffs, said Combs.

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