U.S.-Iraq rice trade re-established

A delegation of U.S. rice industry members led by the USA Rice Federation returned from Amman, Jordan recently after a successful summit with high-level officials with the Iraqi Grain Board that resulted in re-establishing trade.

The group discussed immediate rice sales opportunities and the benefits of renewing the long-term relationship that existed prior to the U.S. government embargo in 1990.

"The USA Rice team absolutely maximized the opportunity to increase rice sales in the short term and re-establish a long-term working relationship that will enable Iraq to become a major importer of U.S. rice," said delegation member Lee Adams.

In a two-hour meeting on Tuesday, the U.S. delegation presented the FGIS/USDA No. 2 specification and answered specific Iraqi questions about their rice tender requirements used in the last World Food Program tender for 70,000MT. Also discussed in detail were terms and conditions of payment, shipping times and destinations, and immediate availability of rice.

It is anticipated that the Iraqi Grain Board will make its first non-WFP tender for a substantial quantity of rice within the next week.

During his opening comments at the start of the summit, Minister of Trade Director General Ahmad Al-Mukhtar said the Iraqi people have good memories of past purchases of high-quality U.S. rice. Al-Mukhtar said he wants to re-establish the close ties between the two countries. To help accomplish this, the MOT will take over grain purchases by the end of March completely phasing out World Food Program tenders. Additional rice tenders are anticipated in the short term because buffer stocks of rice are the lowest of any other commodity.

Iraq has sufficient financial resources to make all necessary rice purchases for the rest of the calendar year.

Getting U.S. rice into Iraq is the USA Rice Federation's top priority for 2004. Doing so would mean regaining access to the U.S. rice industry's former No. 1 market. During the 1980s, U.S. rice sales to Iraq averaged 345,000 metric tons annually, with sales exceeding 500,000 metric tons in peak years. The U.S. rice industry lost the market when the embargo was imposed. In recent years, Iraq's annual rice imports from other world suppliers have averaged a million metric tons.

USA Rice participants include Adams, USA Rice President and CEO Stuart Proctor, International Promotion Middle East Director Hartwig Schmidt,

Marvin Baden, Terry Harris, Kevin McGilton, Warren Bassel, and Todd Burich.

In addition, USA Rice consultant Simon Bakht of AMFI and two of his colleagues were on hand to assist the USA Rice team while in Jordan.

"The U.S. rice industry should thank the federation members who did an outstanding job explaining the technical aspects of trade between the two countries and the quality of U.S. rice," said Proctor. "It was a very credible presentation."

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