BILOXI, Miss. – The pending Central American Free Trade Agreement could mean export growth for the U.S. rice industry, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said in his keynote address at the USA Rice Outlook Conference in Biloxi. Cochran cited potential benefits for both rough and milled rice. "We currently export nearly 500,000 metric tons annually to these five countries. While this is a predominately rough rice market, we are confident that there is potential for increasing exports of milled rice," said Cochran, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. "I understand there is some concern that additional milled rice will take away from the rough rice access. I believe that this trade agreement will ensure access for both rough and milled rice, with adequate room to expand sales of both." As the clock ticks to complete CAFTA by the Dec. 31 deadline, Cochran said he was pleased to see the Mississippi Rice Council's resolution supporting the need to ensure this market grows for U.S. rice. Cochran also commented on the agriculture economy. Strengthening agriculture markets are the main reason for the improvement in farm income, he said. The USA Rice Federation conducts the annual Outlook Conference as the educational forum for U.S. rice producers and the industry. More than 650 attended the conference this week in Biloxi, Miss.