U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman announced he is filing a World Trade Organization case against Turkey to try to force the lifting of its unfair restrictions on U.S. rice imports.

Turkey’s import restrictions for U.S. rice appear to be inconsistent with several of its WTO obligations, said Portman, who announced the filing during a House Agriculture Committee hearing in Washington Nov. 2.

“American rice farmers deserve fair access to Turkey’s market,” the Ambassador said. “Right now, American rice exports are being unfairly restricted. We have raised this issue with the government of Turkey on several occasions, but our concerns have not been addressed.”

Portman said Turkey requires a license to import rice, and it permits the importation of a limited amount of rice at reduced duty rates only if importers also purchase significant quantities of domestic rice – in some cases, more than three times the quantity to be imported, he said.

U.S. Rice view “We commend Ambassador Portman for taking this step,” said U.S. Rice Federation Chairman Lee Adams, a rice miller from Houston, Texas. “We also appreciate the administration’s commitment to enforcing existing trade agreements. Enforcement is a critical part of preserving support for trade among rice producers and exporters.”

USA Rice leaders said that during the Turkish rice harvest, when the domestic purchase requirement is not in effect, Turkey does not permit any imports of rice. Consequently, Turkish imports of U.S. rice of all types have declined by two-thirds since 2003, with imports of U.S. milled and semi-milled rice down 91 percent.

“Turkey is the largest commercial importer of medium grain rice, and we want to be able to compete there,” said Chris Crutchfield, chairman of the federation’s Asia/Turkey International Promotions Subcommittee. “We are working closely with USDA in Turkey and Washington to promote U.S. rice, and today’s action is critical to enhancing market access in Turkey.”

Turkey’s domestic rice market of 70 million consumers is forecast to be worth nearly $200 million in 2006.

During the hearing, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., told Portman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that the U.S. must show improved market access for its farm products in the Doha Round of the WTO.

Pact necessary Portman told the committee that a WTO agreement is essential to leveling the trade playing field and achieve worldwide trade fairness. He said he was also focusing on improving U.S. exports overseas. Johanns said there would be no U.S. unilateral disarmament in the WTO talks.

Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., thanked Portman for the U.S. filing a WTO trade case against Turkey and asked some specific rice-trade related questions about U.S. consultations with Uruguay and discussions with South Korea.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com