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Trade War Casualties.

Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart has been hit with shrapnel from the U.S.China trade war.

Last summer, the rice industry--after working for more than a decade--finally gained access to sell to China, the largest rice market in the world, said Mark Holt, the president of the Bulk Division at Riceland Foods.

"Right now as we speak, it is 100% legal to ship rice from the U.S. to China," he said.

And Holt and Ben Noble, Riceland's vice president of marketing and strategy, have been to China to arrange business with companies and COFCO, China's state-owned food-buying enterprise.

"We're ready. They're ready," Holt said.

Then the trade war happened.

Now "we're in a holding pattern until we come to some sort of agreement between our governments," Holt said.

Holt said he thought an arrangement was going to be made in March. Now it might not be until June, if not later, he said.

"It's a little frustrating," Holt said. Still, he's confident that the doors to China will be open.

"We're hearing good things," he said. "We feel positive something's going to happen."

Riceland is the world's largest miller and marketer of rice and serves 6,000 farmer-members in Arkansas and Missouri.

Holt said he doesn't know how much of China's market Riceland can capture, but the company's not looking for 30% to 50%.

If Riceland can gain just 2% of China's market, it would be "huge" for the company, Holt said. "It would not be a stretch to say several millions of dollars could potentially change hands very, very quickly," he said. "The Chinese opportunity for rice, not only for Riceland but for our industry, is one of the biggest opportunities that have come our way... in many decades."

For its fiscal year that ended July 31, Riceland had $955.5 million in revenue, making it No. 11 on this week's list of the 75 largest private companies.

Caption: Riceland Foods in Stuttgart is still optimistic about new sales to China. [FILE PHOTO]

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

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Title Annotation:Whispers
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 27, 2019
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