Although the United States produces less than 2 percent of the world's rice, it is a major exporter, accounting for almost 5 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, with around 45 percent of the crop going into the global market.
The United States is currently the largest rice importing country in the Western Hemisphere, currently importing around 1.3 million tons. The United States takes mostly aromatic rice from Asia, as well as smaller quantities of medium- and short-grain rice from Asia and (more recently) 20,000-30,000 of long-grain milled-rice from South America.
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 35 percent 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, China, and Burma) restrict rough-rice shipments to protect their domestic milling industries. The Latin American exporters ship rough rice, but only within the region. Cambodia regularly supplies rough rice to neighboring Vietnam.
Overall, the United States exports around 45 percent 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, and Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest rice-importing region in the world is Sub-Saharan Africa, but the bulk of U.S. 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 of U.S. rice are small. East Asia is now the second largest rice importing region, with China the largest buyer. The bulk of U.S. shipments to East Asia go to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with all of these annual purchases made under World Trade Organization agreements. This market is strictly a medium- and short-grain milled- and brown-rice market for the United States, and accounts for about 60 percent of U.S. medium- and short-grain exports. The Middle East (with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates the biggest buyers) is currently the third-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 because of shipments from South American exporters). Western Europe purchases mostly long-grain brown rice from the United States, which western Europe fully mills and then ships to markets in the region. This is a small market for U.S. rice, which has shown no growth over the past decade.
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 is the world's largest rice exporting country. Other major rice exporters include Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, the United States, China, and Burma. These 7 countries account for more than 85 percent of the total volume of annual global rice exports. Cambodia is the next largest exporter—currently shipping 1.6-1.7 million tons, and is in size followed by the South American exporters which are shipping 0.3 million to nearly 0.9 million tons annually.
U.S. Rice Imports
U.S. rice imports have been increasing for more than 20 years, from about 10 percent of the domestic market at the turn of the century to more than 25 percent by 2021/22 (August-July). More than 60 percent of U.S. rice imports are aromatic varieties from Asia—jasmine from Thailand and basmati from India and Pakistan. The United States does produce aromatic rice, but the varieties are not the same as those produced in Asia. Imports of aromatic rice are expected to continue increasing. Since 2011, much smaller quantities of non-aromatic long-grain milled-rice have been imported from South American suppliers, a result of competitive prices. In 2018, China returned as a regular supplier of medium- and short-grain rice to Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. Nearly all of this rice is from its Government-held stocks of older rice sold a substantially discounted prices.
For More Information
- USDA, World Agricultural Outlook Board, World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE)
- USDA, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Grain: World Markets and Trade
- USDA, FAS, Global Agricultural Trade System (data)