Although the United States produces less than 2 percent of the world's rice, it is a major exporter, accounting for around 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 40–45 percent of the crop going into the global market.
The United States is the largest rice importing country in the Western Hemisphere, currently importing around 1.3 million tons. The United States imports mostly aromatic rice from Asia, as well as smaller quantities of medium- and short-grain rice from Asia and (more recently) 15,000–40,000 of long-grain milled-rice annually 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 30 percent of U.S. rice exports (on rough-rice basis), with Mexico and Central and South America accounting for nearly all sales. The United States is the only major exporter that allows rough-rice exports. The other major global exporters (i.e., India, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, China, and Burma) restrict rough-rice shipments to protect their domestic milling industries. Central and South American exporters ship rough rice, but only within the region. Cambodia regularly supplies rough rice to neighboring Vietnam.
Overall, the United States exports 40–45 percent of its rice crop each year, mostly to Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Northeast Asia, the Middle East, and Canada, as well as shipping smaller volumes to the European Union (EU) and Sub-Saharan Africa. The largest rice-importing region in the world is Sub-Saharan Africa, but the bulk of these imports are supplied by low-priced Asian exporters. Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest destination for U.S. food aid shipments of rice, although commercial purchases of U.S. rice are small. The Middle East (with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates the biggest buyers) is currently the third-largest global rice import region. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan are the major U.S. markets in the region. The United States continues to face strong competition in the Middle East from Asian suppliers (particularly Thailand and India), as well as from South American exporters.
Southeast Asia is currently the second-largest global rice importing region, and the Philippines is the world’s largest rice importer with Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam also major global buyers. The United States sells little rice to this region as it is mostly supplied by lower-priced Asian exporters. Although purchases declined in 2023, East Asia remains a major rice importing region, with China by far 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 for U.S. rice is strictly a medium- and short-grain milled- and brown-rice market, and accounts for more than 60 percent of U.S. medium- and short-grain exports. South Asia is the smallest rice import market in Asia, with Nepal and Bangladesh typically the major buyers. The United States sells almost no rice to this region, which is primarily supplied by India.
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 15 years. Latin America (Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America) accounts for 9–10 percent of global rice imports, with purchases rising in recent years, mostly by Brazil. Although Latin America is the largest export market for U.S. rice, the United States is facing increasing competition from South American exporters in the region—primarily Brazil and Paraguay, in both the milled- and rough-rice markets.
Despite its current export restrictions, India remains the world's largest rice exporting country. Other major rice exporters include Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, the United States, China, Burma, and Cambodia. These eight countries account for about 90 percent of the total volume of annual global rice exports. The South American exporters are the next largest suppliers, with country-specific shipments ranging from 0.3 million to 1.0 million tons, annually. Australia exports 200,000–300,000 tons of rice each year, all medium- and short-grain.
U.S. Rice Imports
U.S. rice imports have been increasing for more than 30 years, from around 7 percent of the domestic market in 1993/94 (August–July) to more than 25 percent by 2022/23. More than 60 percent of U.S. rice imports are aromatic varieties from Asia, mostly jasmine from Thailand as well as 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.