January 19, 2005



US eyes Iraqi wheat trade


A delegation of officials representing U.S. wheat exporters is meeting Tuesday in Egypt with members of the Iraqi Grain Board, the government body in charge of buying wheat for the country.


Dawn Forsythe, spokeswoman for the U.S. Wheat Association, said the main topic of the meeting will be Iraq's bidding system "to see if we can arrive at delivery and payment terms that will give the Iraqis the protection they think they need, while still having a document with which the trade can more actively participate."


Members of the U.S. Wheat Associates and the North American Export Grain Association are meeting in Cairo with representatives of the Iraqi Grain Board, Forsythe said.


U.S. wheat exporters hope they will regain a previously significant export market after the ousting of Saddam Hussein, but Australia has remained Iraq's major wheat supplier.


In September, after Iraq announced a substantial purchase from Australia, U.S. Wheat Associates President Alan Tracy said: "The (Australian Wheat Board) has had a strong business relationship with Iraq through the past decade, while the U.S. was locked out."


Iraq has not bought any U.S. wheat since the U.N. World Food Program relinquished control of purchasing to the country's Iraqi Grain Board in March 2004, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.


Under U.N. control, about 160,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat was purchased for Iraq.


Bob Riemenschneider, grains director for USDA's Foreign Agriculture, said that frequent government efforts through attache officers in Baghdad to convince Iraq to change the way it buys grain and make the system more accessible to U.S. exporters have met with no success.


"We're raising the issue regularly and it's part of our ongoing discussions," Riemenschneider said.


An Iraqi Grain Board member said Monday a decision has been made to buy 300,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat but that no contracts have been signed.


Iraq had agreed to buy 500,000 metric tons of U.S. wheat in October 2004 but then canceled that purchase.