Congress demands USTR protect U.S. grown rice

Earlier this month, letters signed by seven Senators and thirteen Congressmen were sent to Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in support of a U.S. rice industry petition to remove rice from the list of duty-free commodities under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Program. Currently, six rice-related tariff lines are eligible for duty-free access to the U.S. for certain GSP-eligible countries.

GSP is intended to provide opportunities for many of the world’s poorest countries to use trade to grow their economies and climb out of poverty. GSP is the largest and oldest U.S. trade preference program. Established by the Trade Act of 1974, GSP promotes economic development by eliminating duties on thousands of products when imported from one of 119 designated beneficiary countries and territories.

Countries primarily impacted by the removal of GSP benefits for rice would include Argentina, Brazil, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Paraguay, and Thailand. Additionally, India would be impacted if they eventually meet the USTR requirements to regain GSP eligibility.

The petition was first filed by USA Rice in March of this year and continues to work its way through the review process, including an investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) and public, virtual hearings conducted by both the USTR and USITC. A final decision on the petition is expected in the coming weeks, with any changes slated to go into effect in 2021.

Members of the Senate cite in their letter, sent earlier this week, "We understand GSP is meant to be a win-win for both the U.S. and our trading partners, but unfortunately in the case of rice, our biggest competitors on the world stage have taken advantage of the program for far too long."

The letter continues: "Coupled with our competitors' high and rising domestic subsidies, these unfair advantages are having negative implications for our rice farmers, millers, merchants, and allied businesses, who are losing domestic market share."

Similarly, the House Members' letter added that, "Unfortunately, through GSP benefits, trade agreements, or even our standard tariff rates, everyone else gets a deal when they want to ship rice into the U.S.. This needs to change."

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