Add rice to booming Arkansas-China trade

By May Zhou and Zhang Yuan in Little Rock, Arkansas | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-25 10:16

China's recent announcement that it would open its market to US rice exports made the governor of Arkansas smile.

"It's such an incredible benefit to our state. It will help Arkansas and our agriculture become more well known in China," Governor Asa Hutchinson said in an exclusive interview with China Daily at his office last Friday.

According to research by the University of Arkansas, Chinese consume about 180 pounds of rice a year on average while the number for Americans is fewer than 33 pounds. China is No. 1 in the importation of rice, while the US ranks No. 3 in rice exporting.

Arkansas produces roughly half of the total US rice output.

"We are delighted to have that market of China open. We produce more than we consume in the US. We market all across the world. Opening the China market will help us a great deal, even if we just get a small part of the market in China. We expect we will be making rice sales to China very quickly," Hutchinson said.

Arkansas primarily produces long grain rice, which is drier and fluffier and favored by American consumers. Chinese favor milled rice, which is thicker and stickier.

Hutchinson said that he welcomes Chinese rice companies to visit with Arkansas growers to work together to produce the right kind of rice for Chinese consumers.

"We would love to attract Chinese companies to come here to process rice also. That makes sense for our state," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson, a Republican, has made the economy his top priority as governor. He has lowered the state's income tax and streamlined the process for the startup, relocation and expansion process for business. He has been working aggressively to pursue foreign investment.

"In fact, in the last five years we created more jobs through foreign direct investment. We rank sixth in the nation in attracting foreign investment. We have grown our foreign job creation by 45 percent over the last five years," Hutchinson said.

And China is a primary destination for Hutchinson when it comes to attracting foreign investment. In less than two years since he took office in January 2015, Hutchinson has visited China twice and is planning a third trip to China in October.

His efforts have produced results: Four Chinese companies recently announced investments in the state: Shandong Ruyi Technology (800 new jobs in Forrest City), Sun Paper (250 new jobs in Clark County), Tianyuan Garment (400 new jobs in Little Rock) and Pet Won Pet Products (70 new jobs in Danville).

The four projects have a combined investment of more than $1.4 billion and will bring more than 1,500 jobs to Arkansas.

Hutchinson did not stop at getting the Chinese companies to come to Arkansas: He also wants to make sure they will succeed.

As he said to a Chinese textile delegation: "We are capitalists, we want you to make money."

For that purpose, he tasked Michael Preston, executive director of the Arkansas

Economic Development Commission (AEDC), to provide whatever support the state government can offer.

Hutchinson also hired Yam Yee Wong, a Chinese American who has been brokering business between China and the US since the middle 1990s, as his senior trade adviser. Wong's primary function is to smooth over the wrinkles and any misunderstandings stemming from different cultures, systems and business practices.

"We offer incentives, primarily credits encouraging employment, and local assistance helping necessary infrastructure," said Hutchinson.

On his trip to China, Hutchinson said that he will continue to promote Arkansas' agricultural resources, manufacturing and tourism.

"Three million Chinese visitors come to the US every year. They historically go to the East and West coasts. In Arkansas, we have a broad variety of scenes and beautiful vistas," he said.

"Johnny Cash's home and Clinton's Presidential Library are here. As people come here to do business, they will know it's also a good place to visit," Hutchinson said.

He took out a photo book All About Arkansas, flipping through the pages to show various Arkansas landscapes.

"We want China to be aware of Arkansas and all we can offer," Hutchinson said.

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