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Iraq wheat debt hopes shattered
WA WHEAT growers have been let down by the Federal Government over the wheat monies owed from Iraq.

The disappointment follows the release of a Senate report last week which recommends that growers will get 20 per cent, or just $US20 million, of the $US98 million they had called the Government to pay out ahead of Iraq meeting its agreed debt repayments starting in 2011.

And this is if Iraq is able to repay the remainder of its debt.

Late last year, the Australian Government, as a member of the Paris Club, wrote off 80 per cent of the debt owed by Iraq, largely from wheat sales

According to the Senate report into the Iraq wheat debt "the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) argued that any scenario in which government insurer EFIC was to forgo its entitlement to allow growers to be fully compensated would create a dangerous precedent".

And the committee, with the exception of Senator Bob Brown, agreed with DFAT.

"The committee agrees that growers should not receive an amount greater than 20 per cent of the total sum paid by Iraq," the report stated.

"To do so would undermine the future viability of the National Insurance Account (held by EFIC) insurance arrangement and reflect a short-sighted approach to export insurance arrangements.

"Although EFIC is a government entity, the insurance policies they provide to exporters represent commercial agreements that ought to be free from governmental intervention, potential or retrospective.

"However, the committee considers it reasonable for growers to request that the payments they are scheduled to receive under the Paris Club agreement be made as early as possible."

The report also recommends that growers, through AWB Ltd, receive the first 20 per cent of repayments from Iraq beginning in 2011.

In response to the Senate report and the Government's handling of the saga, Wheat Growers Association president Bob Iffla said he believed if farmers had any faith in the Federal Government "they would have a lot less now".

Mr Iffla said he and other growers believed that if Iraq paid the remainder it owed under the Paris Club agreement, then growers would get the full amount of what was owed.

"Now, after 24 years, we are going to get only 20 per cent of what is owed - it's a non event," he said.

"I think growers will be very disappointed and frustrated.

"They seem to be hell bent on helping all the other countries in need and I think to expect people to wait 24 years from when the debt was owed is unfair.

"The only person that had any compassion was Bob Brown."

Senator Brown lodged a dissenting report recommending that the Government should repay growers the outstanding wheat debt and then recover the first 20 per cent of Paris Club scheduled repayments.

WAFarmers president Trevor De Landgrafft said WAFarmers was vindicated in that the report recognised the growers were owed money.

But he also believed growers would be disappointed that government would get the lion's share and growers were going to share only 20 per cent.

He believed this was the end of the campaign - they had gone about as far as they could.

"It was proved we were owed it and it wasn't our fault," Mr De Landgrafft said.

"We have learnt to live without it.

"But you would like to think your nation would stand by us when you do something in the nation's interest."
MGR Archive 24.6.2005
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