RAPALLO, ITALY -- More than 140 rice industry executives from 15 countries gathered here last week for the 2017 European Rice Convention to discuss sustainability, consumer trends, and agricultural policy, specifically against the backdrop of Brexit, the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).
A genetic modification (GM) scare in 2006 effectively closed the EU to U.S. rice with the exception of the UK that imports about 50,000 metric tons of U.S. rice annually. The United States has been working to allay misplaced concerns about GM rice – there is none in commercial production in the United States – and persistence may be paying off.
“Once again the U.S. industry sent a large delegation here with 13 members to show our dedication to the EU,” said Hartwig Schmidt, regional director for USA Rice based in Germany who attended the conference. “Through my discussions with European importers, I believe the GM issue is finally dead. However, that means price likely will be the deciding factor for importers, and the current EU tariff regime is quite unfavorable to the U.S.”
The EU gives trading preference under the Everything But Arms provisions to Least Developed Countries resulting in zero duty on rice imports from countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar, while milled rice imports from the U.S. would face a duty of €175 per ton (~$210).
Presenters felt the impact of Brexit was less clear with several possible scenarios emerging, but in all cases U.S. rice exports to the UK would at worst remain the same, but likely increase. Presenters and attendees believe the UK will ask for a two-year extension to complete EU withdrawal negotiations, during which time it is unlikely there will be any significant change to the U.S. market share in the UK.
Sustainability was a major focus of the conference and the U.S. does appear to be well ahead of the rice producing world here.
“It was gratifying to hear the U.S. rice industry receive recognition for the positive impact we are having on sustainability efforts in agriculture,” said Betsy Ward, President & CEO of USA Rice who attended the conference. “We heard from organizations that are committed to improving rice production practices around the world, reducing water use and inputs, and the rice farmers’ footprint, and the U.S. farmer already far exceeds the goals being set for the rest of the world.”
The conference is a biannual meeting of the Federation of European Rice Millers (FERM), the voice of the European rice milling industry. FERM is made up of 21 company members from around Europe as well as three national rice milling associations of Italy, Spain, and Portugal, and represents more than 90 percent of the milling capacity in Europe. USA Rice was an event sponsor.