Iraq’s trade ministry purchased a 60,000-ton order of U.S. rice today, which comes as the latest in a string of rice deals between to the two countries, generating a significant economic boon for Louisiana’s agriculture industry.
Over the past two years, Iraq has ordered a combined 300,000 tons of rice from the U.S., much of which comes from Louisiana growers and mills and is shipped from the Port of Lake Charles.
The most recent rice sale follows a mid-June meeting between U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and Iraqi trade minister Mohammed Hashim Abdul-Majeed Jasim, according to Abraham’s office. The congressman has led efforts to develop a stronger trade relationship with Iraq in recent years, writing several letters in support of U.S. rice trade.
Louisiana is the third largest rice producer in the nation. The crop is one of the state’s top commodities, generating some $372 million in economic impact in 2017 from 2.7 billion pounds of rice produced, according to statistics provided by Abraham’s office.
Iraq is a major rice export market, consuming nearly 1.4 million tons annually, almost all of which is imported. But for years the U.S. hasn’t been able to get its foot in the door in terms of trade with Iraq due to strained relations. That began to change thanks to a 2016 memorandum of understanding and the work of Abraham and other U.S. leaders who further advanced Iraq trade relations.
“Iraq is starting to get used to doing business with us again,” says John Owen, chairman of the Louisiana Rice Promotion Board. “It’s a huge market for Louisiana. We’ll fill most of that export business. But it also helps Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi—a rising tide floats all boats.”
Iraq has basically gone from “a market where we sold nothing to now being the second-largest milled rice market for U.S. long-grain rice in the world,” says Scott Franklin, president of the Northeast Louisiana Rice Growers Association.
And the economic impact is widespread for Louisiana, he says. From rice growers and the mills to workers at the ports across south Louisiana, Iraq rice trade benefits all involved.
“We have an immense amount of milling infrastructure as well as bagging facilities, which gives us an advantage because we can meet the demand,” Franklin says. “For regional southwest Louisiana, it’s an extremely big deal that affects more than just the actual rice farmers.”
Franklin and Owen both largely credit Abraham for opening up rice trade with Iraq.
“Iraqi people do business preferably with people met face to face,” Franklin says. “Overall, it’s very difficult to find someone able to make that connection. Dr. Abraham really opened the door for that relationship.”