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Grains Council comments on the future export of wheat to Iraq.

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Monday 19 August 2002


Grains Council comments on the future export of wheat to Iraq.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Amid the increasingly acrimonious debate in Washington over the merit s of any U.S. attack on Iraq, Australian wheat exporters have been marking a breakthrough with the regime of Saddam Hussein, and it's one that came about not through political intervention.


The Prime Minister John Howard and his Trade Minister Mark Vaile embraced the news yesterday that seven hundred million dollars worth of grain destined for Baghdad was actually going to get there, but neither could claim responsibility for the Iraqi about turn.


The tentative steps taken mean that there's some hope of a trade relationship between the two countries being maintained and already, industry players are making overtures to powerful politicians to try to ensure that Australia doesn't again jeopardise trade through inflammatory language on the world stage.


Simon Santow reports from Canberra.


SIMON SANTOW: Grains Council President Keith Perrett is anxious that Australia's wheat farmers never be caught again in the crossfire over talk of war with Iraq. The Prime Minister thinks it's about time he repaired relations too with the Grains Council.


KEITH PERRETT: I'll be meeting with the Prime Minister this week. I had some messages from the Prime Minster's Office suggesting it would be helpful if we met and to that aim our offices worked out the best time that we could possibly do it.


Quite obviously we need to have some discussions so that they fully understand our position and we understand theirs and we know where we are going in the future so that we can avoid any of these difficulties hopefully.


SIMON SANTOW: A high level delegation from the Australian Wheat Board took their arguments for a resumption in trade direct to Baghdad.


John Howard welcomed news of their success, 1.8 million tonnes of wheat, worth about seven hundred million dollars in exports to Iraq, was no longer in jeopardy, but next year and future exports remain up in the air.


The Prime Minister puts the breakthrough down to resolving questions about the quality of the wheat in the shipment. John Howard argues it's not about politics.


JOHN HOWARD: I think it's probably better if we don't try and put what's happened in relation to wheat in any kind of political context. It's always a good idea to focus on the commercial and trade aspect of these things and I don't seek to draw any particular political message out of this for anybody, for myself or for members of the Labor Party.


SIMON SANTOW: Keith Perrett had publicly pleaded with the Government to mind the strength of its political language, saying it wasn't at all helpful for trade between the countries.


Yesterday, he was diplomatic in his reaction to the news, but he hopes lessons have been learnt.


KEITH PERRETT: It doesn't guarantee future exports and you can never be guaranteed of future exports anywhere but we are hopeful that the positive signs and the positive statements that are coming out of the Iraqis will lead to further sales and continue the longstanding trade that we have with Iraq.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Grains Council President, Keith Perrett speaking to Simon Santow in Canberra.