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Iraq wheat claim 'bizarre'
WHEAT marketers are baffled by Iraq's claim that more than 100,000 tonnes of Australian wheat stranded on ships in the Persian Gulf is contaminated.

The importer, the Iraqi government, claims the 120,000 tonnes of wheat, which has already been paid for, is contaminated with iron dust.

But Australian export authorities maintain the cargo is clean and say it underwent its normal thorough inspection by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

Australia's monopoly wheat export manager, AWB, said the three bulk carriers have been sitting in the Gulf off Iraq's biggest port, Um Qasr, for more than a month.

"It is bizarre," AWB spokesman Peter McBride said of Iraq's claims.

"We had a similar issue last year with Pakistan. Pakistan claimed we had carnal bunt, which is a wheat disease, which basically floored us because we've never had that disease in Australia.

"We worked through that and we've put 650,000 tonnes into that market.

"We believe once this issue's finished we will sit down with the Iraqis and talk about their future trade needs. We value them as an important market for Australian wheat growers – we've been there for 57 years."

In a Senate estimates committee in Canberra this week, South Australian Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris raised concerns that the delay could be costing growers $100,000 a day in shipping costs.

Mr McBride said it was too early to put a figure on any such costs.

"This is the back end of a million tonne contract," he said.

"We get money back if delivery occurs early, which happened in some parts of that contract, and then we also build in a time period.

"So the minute the ship gets there it doesn't mean it has to unload, it has a certain time period which can be anywhere between seven and 16 days to unload before demurrage kicks in."

The government regulator, the Wheat Export Authority (WEA), said it would investigate the matter as part of its normal performance monitoring.

"In the course of WEA's performance monitoring activities we would assess any impacts on AWB International's pool return that may arise from issues such as this one," WEA chief executive Glen Taylor said.

The performance monitoring was retrospective, he said, so a result was still some months away.
MGR Archive 29.5.2005
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