Editor’s note: Ben Noble is president of Noble Strategies, a consulting firm based in Little Rock that represents Arkansas Rice and Tyson Foods.
While we’ve made progress in expanding our trade relationship with China, significant hurdles remain for two of Arkansas’ most valuable exports: rice and poultry.
Both are banned from access to Chinese markets. China’s government claims “phytosanitary issues,” essentially food-safety regulations, are preventing Arkansas rice from reaching Chinese markets. At the same time, China has established phytosanitary protocols with 11 different countries: Cambodia, India, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, Uruguay, and Vietnam.
If you’re like me, then you must be scratching your head over such a list when “food safety” is the justification for a continued ban on Arkansas rice. As the proud son and brother of rice farmers, I’d put Arkansas’s food-safety protocols up against ANY country in the world.
On the poultry front, China continues to ban Arkansas poultry products due to an avian influenza episode in Iowa. In other words, they have banned our poultry for an issue that is completely unrelated and out of the control of our state’s industry.
Arkansas farmers and exporters deserve better and our Governor knows it. Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently led a trade mission to China, which I was fortunate enough to be a part of, that secured new investments and jobs for our great state. Of particular note is the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Chinese sport apparel manufacturer Suzhou Tianyuan Garments Company, which will invest more than $20 million and bring 400 jobs to Arkansas. Progress was also made on the ongoing Sun Paper Project that is valued at $1.3 billion and creates 250 jobs.
Along with these highly-publicized announcements, Gov. Hutchinson has also made a personal appeal to the Chinese to take the actions necessary to open their borders to Arkansas rice and Arkansas poultry. Recent statistics from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture place the economic impact of these industries in Arkansas at $4.9 billion.
Trade policy around the world is almost always contentious, but one constant remains critical to success: relationships. Gov. Hutchinson understands this and should be applauded for his efforts to strengthen existing relationships, while forging new ones that can develop into future opportunities.
As for rice and chicken, Arkansas will continue to grow the best in the world and hope that China soon opens their doors for business.
We’re ready to go to market.