U.S. trade officials are in the thick of negotiating two major trade agreements. Both, according to Carl Brothers, Riceland Foods senior vice president of marketing and risk management, “are difficult.”

Brothers, spoke about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Investment and Trade Partnership (TTIP) at the recent University of Arkansas’ 2014 Rice Expo in Stuttgart.

“Already, we’re having trouble with countries wanting to … have special privilege with rice. The (U.S. rice) industry is standing hard and tall saying, ‘we can’t let this happen again. We were left out of the (trade deal with) Korea.’ So the industry is putting lots of political pressure on to keep that from happening.”

A related issue has been the inability of President Obama to get authority for trade agreements to be voted up or down. “If you bring an agreement back and don’t have that authority, you know Congress will begin to say, ‘We’ll accept this but never that.’ And we’ll never get a trade agreement.  

“So, trade promotion authority will come up at some point. The President will have to have it if we’re to have any agreements worth consideration.”

There are 11 countries involved in the TPP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Hamilton: rice the ‘cement’ of Asia

“The only one that really holds promise for rice at the moment, above and beyond what we’re doing today, is Japan. We did get to ship rice to Japan in 1995. … What we’re wishing for, really demanding, in the new round is greater access which means more tonnage. We’re not saying how much tonnage because no one has shown their hand just yet.

“The other issue with Japan is improved quality of access. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries stays in between U.S. trade in Japan and (consumers). In fact, most of the U.S. rice that goes into Japan -- all of it currently being shipped out of California -- never reaches the table. It’s either going to food aid programs or for industrial purposes.”