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Iraqi wheat sales in jeopardy
Doubts are growing over one of Australia's most important wheat markets, with a key Iraqi official claiming it would shun Australia for future contracts. Khalil Assi, director general of the Iraqi Gain Board, said his country had suspended talks with Australia over a 500,000 tonne contract that would be worth more than $500 million. He also claimed Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd, would pay back part of a one million tonne contract that Mr Assi had been contaminated by iron. But the claims of contaminated wheat were completely rejected by AWB as it said it would seek talks with Iraqi officials to overcome what the company believes is wholescale confusion. Two ships are set to dock at the port of Umm Qasr within 48 hours, completing the million tonne contract. But Mr Assi, who earlier in the week said that contract had been put on hold, said tests had shown that at least part of it was contaminated by iron. He said that contamination meant Australia's involvement with a possible 500,000 tonne contract was now in doubt. But an AWB spokesman said tests on the wheat, conducted in Australia in recent days, had shown it was completely clear of any problems. "We reject any allegation of contamination," he said. "The wheat was free of contaminants and of a very high quality when it left Australia." The wheat was also tested by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service before it was sent to Iraq. Those tests found the wheat clear of any problems. The AWB spokesman said there appeared to be different messages coming from Mr Assi and out of Iraq on the status of the company's various contracts. "There seems to be some confusion coming out of Iraq because we believed there would be no new contracts until the new government was in place," he said. The new government is not expected to take office formally for at least three weeks. The Iraqi market is a major one, with Australia facing intense competition from the United States. President of the US Wheat Associates organisation, Alan Tracy, today attacked former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge who this week suggested misinformation about Australia's wheat exports might be coming from America. Mr Tracy said Mr Flugge was making incendiary and over the top comments. "We are out to win Iraqi wheat business by providing a good product, reliable export performance and an open exchange of information," he said. "US Wheat Associates has no knowledge of any problems with Australian wheat and we have said nothing to disparage their product." The controversy follows claims by Pakistan last year that a shipment of wheat was contaminated by karnal bunt. AWB proved the wheat was free of the disease, and since then has exported 600,000 tonnes to Pakistan.
MGR Archive 17.4.2005
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