China has opened the door to imports of rice from the United States for the first time ever in what analysts took to signal a warming of relations between the world's two biggest economies after a frosty year marked by tensions and tit-for-tat tariffs.
The green light from Chinese customs, indicated in a statement posted on the customs authority's website on Friday, comes in the run-up to talks between the countries in January after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a moratorium on higher tariffs that would affect trade worth hundred of billions of dollars.
It was not immediately clear how much rice China, which sources rice imports from within Asia, might seek to buy from the United States. But the move, which comes after years of talks on the matter, follows pledges from China's commerce ministry of further U.S. trade openings earlier this week.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see importers trying to move rice into China from California but I don't know if it will be in breathtaking quantities right away," said Stuart Hoetger, an analyst and physical rice trader based in California.
As of Dec. 27, imports of brown rice, polished rice and crushed rice from the United States are now permitted, as long as cargoes meet China's inspection standards and are registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA on Dec. 11 forecast U.S. rice production at 6.93 million tonnes while Chinese rice imports were estimated at 5 million tonnes. Rice makes up only a small portion of U.S. agricultural exports, which are dominated by shipments of soybeans, grain, tree nuts and meat.
U.S. rice futures had little reaction to the announcement, declining by 7 cents to $10.06 per cwt.
"The permission for U.S. rice suggests an improving U.S. and China relationship," said Cherry Zhang, an agriculture analyst with consultancy JCI. Zhang said she expected any imports would likely be ordered by state-owned companies.
Officials at a government-affiliated think tank in Beijing said the price of U.S. rice was not competitive, compared with imports from South Asia, and said the move to formally permit imports from the United States should be interpreted as a goodwill gesture. China opened its rice market when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, but a lack of phytosanitary protocol between China and the United States effectively banned imports, according to trade group USA Rice.
Nonetheless, in July China formally imposed additional tariffs of 25 percent on U.S. rice, even though imports were not permitted at the time.
The population of unauthorised immigrants in the United States fell to 10.7 million in 2016, its lowest level since 2004.
It was so largely due to a decline in the number of people coming from Mexico, the media reported on Wednesday, quoting a study recently released.
The report from the Pew Research Centre pewrsr.ch/2Qptbid, based on US Census data and other figures from 2016, showed the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has declined steadily.
Their numbers were peaked 12.2 million in 2007.
Researchers believe part of the reason for the decline was the economic recession that gripped the United States in 2007.
Thereafter, there was the slow recovery that followed, which limited work opportunities for migrants.
“The combination of economic forces and enforcement priorities may be working together to discourage people from arriving or sending them home,’’ said D’Vera Cohn.
Cohn is one of the authors of the Pew Research Centre report.
President Donald Trump has made immigration enforcement a focus for his administration, most recently, pressing the US Congress to authorise funding of a wall on the border with Mexico.
He has deployed troops in advance of the arrival of a caravan of migrants from Central America.
Even before Trump took office, a decline in the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico had changed the demographic profile of unauthorised migrants in the United States.
Among recent arrivals, immigrants in the United States, who overstayed a visa, were likely to outnumber people who illegally crossed the border, it said.
Overall, the Pew study was in line with previous research that found many unauthorised immigrants have been living in the United States for years.
Their children are more likely to have been born in the country than abroad.
Among the 10.7 million unauthorised immigrants, two-thirds of adults have lived in the United States for more than a decade, the Pew Research Centre study found.
Five million US-born children with American citizenship are living with parents or relatives, who are unauthorised immigrants, the study found.