LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ governor and U.S. senators hailed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s announcement Thursday that the Department of Agriculture has reached an agreement with Chinese officials on a protocol to allow the U.S. to begin exporting rice to China for the first time.

“The news today announcing that the U.S. is now permitted to sell rice to China for the first time in history is a significant boost to Arkansas — the nation’s No. 1 rice producer — and our overall economy,” Gov. Hutchinson said in a statement.

“This is an issue I’ve consistently advocated for on my trade missions to China and in meetings with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. I applaud Secretary Perdue and the USDA for their tireless efforts in getting this deal done. It’s a great day to be an Arkansan,” he said.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., called the announcement “great news for Arkansas’s rice producers and our state’s economy.”

“I commend President Trump and Secretary Perdue for following through on this long-stalled action so that American rice producers can gain access to one of the world’s largest markets. This agreement has been in the making for over a decade. I am pleased that it is now across the finish line,” Boozman said in a statement.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, said in a statement, “Arkansas rice is the best in the world, and today’s announcement is a victory for our rice farmers. Now, for the first time, millions of new customers will be able to buy Arkansas rice, which will give a big boost to our state economy.”

China is the world’s largest producer, importer and consumer of rice. The nation imported nearly 5 million tons of rice last year.