Australia to send delegation to Iraq
Australia will send envoys to Iraq to discuss its halt in imports from the sole Australian wheat exporter after it was accused of corruption during the UN oil-for-food programme.india Updated: Feb 15, 2006 13:12 IST
Australia will send envoys to Iraq to discuss its halt in imports from the sole Australian wheat exporter after it was accused of corruption during the UN oil-for-food programme, the prime minister said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the Iraqi Grain Board suspended its relationship with Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, AWB Ltd, pending a probe into allegations its executives knowingly paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime under the UN oil-for-food program.
The suspension effectively puts Australia out of the running for a 1 million ton wheat contract to Iraq, delivering a major blow to Australian wheat farmers.
"The government will send a delegation to Iraq to discuss the current Iraqi tender," Howard told parliament Wednesday.
"The delegation will explore all options to secure the continued access of Australian wheat to this important market.
The delegation will include Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Mark Vaile and AWB's Executive Chairman Brendan Stewart.
Howard held crisis talks with Stewart in Canberra today, and said AWB had agreed to temporarily allow other companies to supply wheat to Iraq if the delegation fails to lift the suspension.
Stewart later told reporters that AWB would only relinquish its exclusive export arrangement after all other options had been explored.
"We've got to get this into perspective: That is a last resort," he said. "We have said to the prime minister that if we have to use that, then we absolutely will.