Included in the agenda for the May 15 meetings in Guatemala City were discussions about the impact on rice exports of the negotiations for a Central American Free Trade Agreement that are being conducted by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and governments in Central America.

The U.S. Rice Producers Association has made Central America and Mexico the focus of its market development efforts since growers in California, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas formed the organization in 1997.

“The U S Rice Producers Association long ago recognized the domestic issues and difficulties we face in our local markets and have played an important role in our effort to raise the per capita consumption of rice,” said Max Guillermo Novoa, president of FECARROZ and a rice miller from El Salvador.

Other countries represented at the meetings were Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

Nova and other FECARROZ leaders met with Penn Owen, a rice producer from Tunica, Miss., and Dennis DeLaughter, a producer from Texas, who both serve as board members of the U.S. Rice Producers Association. USA Rice President and CEO Stuart Proctor and Marvin Lehrer, USA Rice’s Latin America program director, represented the USA Rice Federation at the meeting.

Central America has become the second largest market for U.S. rice exports – behind Mexico. In the 2001/2002 marketing year, the United States shipped 509,000 metric tons of rice to Central America with El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua each receiving more than 100,000 tons.

In the current marketing year, sales are running at a slightly heavier pace, according to Jim Willis, who manages international program activities for the U.S. Rice Producers Association and also represented USRPA at the Guatemala City meeting.

“We realized early on that in order to grow and maintain these markets for the U.S. rice industry, it was imperative to have an improved relationship with the rice associations and councils from all of the Central American countries and Mexico, which had not happened as it should have in the past,” according to Dwight Roberts, president & CEO of the Rice Producers. “We will all benefit from this close working relationship and look forward to the next meeting to be held in Houston in the near future.”

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