Australia, US dispute over wheat to Iraq

US wheat growers launched a fresh attack on their Australian counterparts on Friday, one day after accusing the main wheat exporter to Iraq of propping up the Saddam Hussein government.

US Wheat Associates are keen to
reenter the Iraqi market

A bitter trade spat between the Gulf War allies escalated when US wheat growers called for the Australian bureaucrat charged with restoring Iraq’s agricultural sector to be sacked.
Trevor Flugge, a former chairperson at the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), is at the centre of the controversy.

US Wheat Associates are calling for his removal as co-coordinator of the Iraqi agriculture department, saying he is a “master monopolist” who is protecting Australia’s trade interests at the expense of US farmers.

US wheat growers, who have been keen to reenter the lucrative Iraqi market, accused their Australian rivals this week of receiving kickbacks from Saddam Hussein’s family.

Wheat Associates president Alan Tracey said he was concerned US growers would lose contracts to the Australians.

They also questioned the role of Flugge, the only non-US official given a position by the United States in the Iraq rebuilding team.  

“US Wheat Associates is not prepared to accept Australian decision-making on wheat-buying processes for the Iraqi people,” Tracey said.

Prior to the war, Australia was Iraq’s largest wheat supplier, shipping grain worth $528 million a year under the auspices of the United Nations oil for food program.

Iraq stopped buying US wheat after the first Gulf War.  

The Australian Wheat Board has
threatened to sue

The AWB called the allegations from their US counterparts “ludicrous” and has threatened to sue over the comments.

They accused the US of hypocrisy for stressing the importance of a level playing field even while its growers receive significant government subsidies, unlike the Australians.
“We are more than happy to compete with US wheat in a free market on a level playing field but that will mean the US will have to match their rhetoric and only allow unsubsidised wheat to be marketed,” AWB managing director Andrew Lindberg said.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile rejected the allegations and officially informed the US embassy that his government found them insulting.

The opposition Labour party said the claims over Saddam Hussein must be investigated by the Federal Government so that they were disposed of quickly.

“While the claims appear bizarre, it is important they are properly investigated and disposed of as quickly as possible,” primary affairs spokesman Kerry O’Brien and trade spokesman Craig Emerson said in a statement.

Australia was the only country besides Britain to contribute troops to the US-led war on Iraq.

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