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Australia's AWB says still seeks Iraq wheat trade
SYDNEY, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Australian wheat exporter AWB Ltd said on Friday it would pursue new business with Iraq next year, dismissing a media report its trade with Iraq was under threat over shipping costs. The Sydney Morning Herald had reported that the trade with Iraq was at risk because of a wrangle over shipping costs in the wake of a United Nations report accusing the AWB of funneling funds to Saddam Hussein's regime to win delivery contracts.

An AWB spokesman dismissed the report, which had quoted Iraqi Grain Board chief Khalil Assi, and said AWB had simply lost a lucrative tender this year to American rivals over price.

"We've only got 15 percent of the world trade. You win some, you lose some," AWB spokesman Peter McBride said. "We will be in the next tender with a competitive bid."

AWB's stance was being interpreted more severly in Baghdad, where Assi was quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "Maybe Australia is finished in the Iraqi market. Unless they bid on our terms, we can't buy from AWB anymore."

Under an existing contract, the AWB is to deliver 650,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq by the end of June 2006, McBride said.

The U.N. inquiry, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, reported in October that Australian and European firms had made payments as part of the U.N. oil-for-food programme that ended up as kickbacks to Saddam's government.

AWB has been accused of paying up to $300 million to Iraq through the now-discredited programme in connection with wheat-exports contracts valued at over $1.5 billion.

The AWB, which has said that it knew nothing of payments to Saddam, also
MGR Archive 25.12.2005
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