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Sun 5 Mar 2006 04:00 AM

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Gulf gains appetite for US rice

Rice growers in the USA, the world's third biggest exporter of rice, are keen to strengthen their presence in the Gulf.

With countries including China, India and Thailand renowned for their rice crops, it might come as a surprise that the USA is the third biggest exporter of rice to the GCC.

This lack of awareness is certainly one reason for the USA Rice Federation’s presence at the Gulfood exhibition, along with rice producers from the country including Riceland and Gulf Pacific. “We hope to raise awareness of our rice at the [Gulfood] exhibition,” said Stuart E Proctor, president and CEO of the USA Rice Federation, a trade organisation that aims to promote the interests of USA rice companies.

“We fare quite well in the global market,” he added. “We’re the world’s third largest rice exporting country. It’s very good for us because we’re about the number-ten largest producer. We export about 50% of all that we produce so the export market is critically important to the profitability of the industry.”

Furthermore, the USA’s rice industry also has strong ties with the GCC. Indeed, companies from the USA originally introduced long grain, parboiled rice to Saudi Arabia and virtually dominated the market up until the 1980s, when India started to produce the same variety.

During that time, a shift in consumer tastes in the region also worked against US growers, according to Proctor, although more recently, the market has improved significantly. “Things have leveled out and more recently US rice sales are increasing all over the Middle East again,” Proctor said. “In Jordan, it increased by 110% between 2004 and 2005.

“We fare quite well because we’re the only rice producing country that provides all varieties for all markets. We can provide all of our customers here in the Middle East with what they want, whether it is medium grain in Jordan or long grain in Saudi Arabia.”

The USA produces about 7.5 million metric tons of rice a year and exports about 3.5 million. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are the country’s biggest markets, and Iraq is also becoming opening up to rice from the USA. “Iraq used to be one of our most important markets in the Middle East in the past,” Proctor said. “They are now starting to buy large quantities of rice from us.

The development of supermarkets and hypermarkets in countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE is also helping increase the market for premium rice brands such as those exported by the USA. “Historically we have been very strong in the Middle East,” Proctor added. “We think this will be an excellent and growing market for us in the future. Many of the brands have been in the region for decades.”

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