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Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Page: 9


Mrs HULL (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade. Would the Deputy Prime Minister advise the House of the status of negotiations to secure the supply of wheat to Iraq?


Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question. The member for Riverina will be pleased to be able to inform the wheat growers in Junee, Illabo, Temora and Cootamundra in her electorate that today Wheat Australia have announced that they have concluded a commercially acceptable deal to sell 350,000 tonnes of wheat to the IGB in Iraq. This is good news for Australian wheat growers and good news for the trade relationship between Australia and Iraq.

I think all members of the House would be aware of the history of this deal. It has had a bit of rough time at times over the last few weeks in its development and negotiation. Even early last week it looked as though it was not going to go ahead. I acknowledge the tenacity of Wheat Australia in sticking with the negotiations and achieving this very important outcome for Australia’s wheat growers.

Earlier this year, the Iraqi government indicated that they were going to set aside their commercial relationship with the AWB during the Cole inquiry—and that was a reasonable course of action for them to take. Following that, I took a trip to Iraq, and in Baghdad I met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Ahmad Chalabi, to seek access to that market and for Australian entities to negotiate in the tendering process for wheat. He indicated to me that he would agree that Australian entities could participate in the tender that was opened at the time and that we could tender for 350,000 tonnes of wheat. Wheat Australia has been participating since then in these negotiations to this very successful conclusion with the agreement today. Wheat Australia has announced today that it will be moving ahead with that.

It was interesting, as an aside, that last week, while I was overseas representing Australia in WTO negotiations and discussions, the member for Griffith was criticising me here in Australia for being over there negotiating multilateral agreements that the Australian Labor Party wholeheartedly support. He said: ‘Oh, he shouldn’t be over there. He should be flying to Baghdad to fix this up.’ What the member for Griffith does not realise is that the telephones still work in Baghdad. Three days beforehand, I was talking to Dr Chalabi about these issues. So we were sorting them out. When the member for Griffith was criticising me here in Australia, we were sorting the problems out with this deal.

Today in their announcement of the 350,000 tonnes sale of wheat, Wheat Australia congratulated the federal government and thanked it for its support. They said:

With commercial terms now agreed, it is also appropriate that Wheat Australia acknowledge the federal government for their efforts in securing this opportunity for Australian growers to tender for the supply of wheat into Iraq.

The market is open. They will have the opportunity to compete in further tenders. And we fully expect that they will.