Although the United States produces less than 2 percent of the world's rice, it is a major exporter, currently accounting for around 6 percent of the annual volume of global rice trade. The United States is regarded as a consistent, reliable, and timely supplier of high-quality rice in both the long- and combined medium- and short-grain global markets. Exports are important to the U.S. rice industry, as the global market accounts for around half of its annual sales volume.
U.S. rice imports have been increasing over the last 20 years, from about 10 percent of the domestic market at the turn of the century to around 25 percent by 2019/20 (August-July). Most U.S. rice imports are aromatic varieties from Asia—jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India and Pakistan. China recently returned as a regular supplier of medium- and short-grain rice to Puerto Rico, a United States territory.
U.S. Rice Exports
U.S. rice exports include rough or unmilled rice, parboiled rice, brown rice, and fully milled rice. Rough rice now accounts for around a third of U.S. rice exports (on a rough-rice basis), with Latin America the primary market. The United States is the only major exporter that allows rough-rice exports. The other major exporters (India, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and China) restrict rough-rice shipments to protect their domestic milling industries.
Overall, the United States exports about half of its rice crop each year, mostly to Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Northeast Asia, and the Middle East as well as shipping smaller volumes to Canada, the European Union (EU), and Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest rice-importing region in the world is Sub-Saharan Africa, but the bulk of its imports are supplied by low-priced Asian exporters. Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest destination for U.S. food aid shipments of rice, while commercial purchases are small. The Middle East (with Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia the biggest buyers) is the second-largest global rice import market. The United States continues to lose market share in this region, mostly because of strong competition from Asian suppliers, particularly Thailand and India, as well as shipments from South American exporters. The EU purchases mostly long-grain brown rice from the United States, which it fully mills and then ships to markets in the region. Northeast Asia is strictly a medium- and short-grain milled- and brown-rice market for the United States.
In Latin America, the United States is facing increasing competition from South American exporters, in both the milled- and rough-rice markets. The United Sales sells very little rice to South Asia or Southeast Asia, as lower-priced Asian exporters supply these markets. India and Thailand remain the world's largest rice exporting countries, followed by Vietnam, Pakistan, and China. Including the United States, these six countries account for more than four-fifths of the total volume of annual rice exports.
U.S. Rice Imports
U.S. rice imports have increased in recent decades, largely because of the growing demand for aromatic varieties, partly driven by the expanding population of rice-consuming ethnic groups. Aromatics, primarily jasmine and basmati rice, are imported from Thailand, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. U.S. plant breeders have yet to develop aromatic rice varieties with the same characteristics as these specific Asian varieties. Imports of aromatic rice are expected to continue increasing until U.S. breeders develop varieties that satisfy this part of domestic demand. Since 2018. China has regularly shipped medium- and short-grain rice to Puerto Rico from its Government stocks of older rice at substantially discounted prices.