Victims' Rights Caucus

Press Releases

U.S. Congressman Ted Poe spoke passionately on the floor of the House of Representatives on Thursday night in honor of Small Business Week. The thirty minute Special Order was devoted to the plight of the Texas rice farmer and the considerable impact of limited subsidies and restricted markets.

Since entering Congress this session, Representative Poe has called for the expansion of U.S. rice trade to countries such as Iraq and Cuba, which would provide increased opportunities for Texas rice farmers. During his trip to Iraq in January, Congressman Poe met with James Smith, Counselor of Agricultural Affairs in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and has also issued a Dear Colleague in Congress to rally the support of fellow members to sign a letter to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns requesting that the Export Credit Guarantee Program for Iraq be reinstated. The letter currently has 10 co-signers and has been forwarded to the USA Rice Federation and the U.S. Rice Producers. Due to the debts that Iraq incurred under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the USDA is hesitant toward offering credit protections to financial institutions that extend money to the Iraqi Grain Board.

During the 1980s, Iraq was the primary market for U.S. rice. Comprising 80% of Iraqs rice imports, U.S. rice sales peaked at 500,000 metric tons. On account of Saddam Hussein and sanctions on Iraq, however, the USA Rice Federation and the U.S. Rice Producers Association estimate that the U.S. lost approximately $1.9 billion in rice export sales to Iraq from 1991 to 2003. Having entered the market under the U.N. Oil for Food program, Thailand, Vietnam, and China presently constitute the chief exporters to Iraq, which annually requires 1.3 million metric tons of rice.

Until Congress passage of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, the Cuban market had also been closed to American agriculture products because of the lingering U.S. sanctions imposed in 1963. With the reopening mandated by this Act, rice sales to Cuba have grown to $64 million per year. On February 22nd though, the Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was redefining the definition of payment of cash in advance a ruling which could jeopardize future trade. As Cubans begin looking to Vietnam, Thailand, and other sources for rice, Congressman Poe has already co-signed a measure H.R. 1339 urging Congress to clarify its original intent on cash payment in advance to promote the growth of this trade relationship.

Capturing the various hurdles faced by the farming industry through both facts and figures as well as personalized grower accounts, Congressman Poes address included the following excerpts:

Madam Speaker, on Friday night, April 15, I had a meeting with local rice farmers in my southeast Texas district. We met out in the country in the lowland plains of east Texas on Aggie Drive in Beaumont, Texas... Many of these men had finished a 16-hour day and came to the meeting after working all that time in the fields. They drove up in their standard work vehicles: Texas pickup trucks. Their appearances would fool you, however. They are highly intelligent, some very well educated. They know more about farming, farming machinery, nature, conservation, irrigation, water resources, meteorology, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizer, trade, global competition, foreign governments, and efficiency than many who have a string of degrees behind their names, especially those near this House.

As we sat around and ate fried catfish made out of rice flour, I talked to them for several hours about their plight. One rice farmer said this was his last year in farming. He was finally just going to sell off his equipment and sell the land. They painted for me, Madam Speaker, the extremely bleak picture of the present and future in ri