agriculture in iraq - aus/us interests

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    The Australian heading the US-led coalition's agriculture team in Iraq has hit back at charges by American wheatgrowers that he was looking out for his country's farm interests at their expense.

    Iraqi agriculture department co-ordinator Trevor Flugge said the accusation by US Wheat Associates chief Alan Tracey was "absolute rubbish" and that a demand for his dismissal was a "revolting" slur.
    "It is very easy to sit in air-conditioned offices in Washington and fire off letters to the secretary of state," Mr Flugge said. "We have got a team of people here – Americans and Australians – who are working 15 hours a day to try and stand up agriculture in this country which is nearly broken."

    Mr Flugge said that as the coalition's top farming adviser, he did not even deal with wheat imports.

    The only food imports which he was responsible for were chicken feed and soya beans for livestock, neither of which Australia exported.

    He said the US was barred from competing for contracts for either, as it had been decided to keep Iraq free of genetically modified products until a new Iraqi government was in place to set its own policy on the GM issue.

    The only food currently being imported was under contracts signed under Saddam Hussein's now ousted regime, Mr Flugge said.

    "No new contracts are currently being written by anyone for almost anything," Mr Flugge said.

    He acknowledged that there were outstanding wheat contracts on which "someone is going to have to take a decision in the next couple of months".

    But he said the decision on whether to break them despite the "serious legal ramifications" would certainly not fall to him, and probably not to the far larger number of US advisers in the occupation authority either.

    "I don't think there will be any decisions that are going to be made until the (Iraqi) interim administration is in place," he said.

    US wheat growers have been keen to move in on a lucrative market, which earned Australia some $A800 million a year before the war under the United Nations oil-for-food program.

    But their demands for the dismissal of the sole Australian senior adviser in Iraq have undermined the close alliance between the US and Australia during the conflict.

    "US Wheat Associates is not prepared to accept Australian decision-making on wheat-buying processes for the Iraqi people," Mr Tracey told the media.

    The accusations against Mr Flugge came after US Wheat Associates accused their Australian rivals of achieving their pre-war dominance of Iraqi imports by paying kickbacks to Saddam's family.

    The Australian Wheat Board threatened to sue over the "ludicrous" allegations and Trade Minister Mark Vaile officially informed the US Embassy that his government found them insulting.

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