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Rice trade group upset with Iraqi aid deal
The Lafayette
U.S farmers are being cheated out of an opportunity to sell rice to Iraq, according to an industry representative and several politicians.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will purchase 70,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam to be delivered as food aid to Iraq in March.

“It’s a missed opportunity for south Louisiana farmers,” Stuart Proctor with the USA Rice Federation said on Thursday. “The export market is critical to the rice industry.”

Prior to 1991, Iraq represented the largest export market for the U.S. rice industry, Proctor said. Up to 500,000 tons of rice were sent to Iraq annually, he said.

When U.S. exports were cut off to Iraq in 1991, Vietnam and Thailand became Iraq’s major suppliers of rice.

U.S. Rep. Chris John, D-Crowley, and whose family built a trucking business initially based on hauling rice, said it is troubling that the USDA is buying rice from Vietnam, a country that is not part of the security and rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

“Countries who have not joined our brave American soldiers in efforts to rebuild Iraq should not be the administration’s first choice for rice purchases,” John said.

Current estimates by the USDA are that Iraq will need more than 1 million tons of rice per year for the next several years.

Because of low prices and high production, a renewed market in Iraq would have a large impact on rice farmers and mills in rural areas of Louisiana and Arkansas, Proctor said.

Proctor said he thinks the USDA chose Vietnam because of a low bid price and promises of quick delivery. At the moment, the price of U.S. grown rice is higher, he said.

“We question their timing for the delivery of rice,” Proctor said. “I don’t think they can do it. We have rice available now and would be able to deliver it quicker.”

Proctor said even though U.S. rice is priced higher, American farmers should have received a portion of the deal.
MGR Archive 22.2.2004
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