Both the USA Rice Federation and the U.S. Rice Producers Association have asked White House officials to support more food aid programs for Iraq and have asked USDA to begin laying the groundwork for reopening the commercial market for U.S. agricultural commodities there.

The USA Rice Federation shared its plan on May 23 with Charles Conner, President Bush's special assistant on agricultural trade and food assistance. The effort capped a week-long push with key members of the House and Senate who are discussing plans for post-war Iraq, as well as the federal agencies charged with implementing the new policies.

A major roadblock to the re-establishment of a commercial market was eliminated with the lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Iraq. The nation was one of the top markets for U.S. rice in the 1980s, and USA Rice Federation president and CEO Stuart Proctor wants to see the Iraqi market redevelop quickly.

"We understand that food distribution will continue through a public distribution system for some time to come," Proctor said. "After 13 years of UN sanctions and the economic devastation that resulted, it is unknown when Iraq will become a functioning commercial market again. But we're pleased to see it headed in that direction.

"However, in the near term it's critical that food aid programs are expanded to meet the immediate nutritional needs of the Iraqi people."

USA Rice submitted a plan to the Foreign Agricultural Service titled Proposal for U.S. Rice's Role in the Iraq Reconstruction Effort which calls for the immediate and continued use of U.S. rice in food aid to Iraq as long as necessary. It also outlines USA Rice Federation market development and trade servicing activities once the parameters of a commercial market are re-established.

The plan was also shared with the Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios, and USDA Senior Ministry Advisor for Agriculture Daniel Amstutz, Secretary Veneman's liaison on Iraq.

John Mentis, USA Rice's vice president of domestic and international promotion, said rice is a key ingredient for humanitarian aid.

“We were pleased that U.S. rice was recognized as a perfect fit for humanitarian food aid for the Iraqi people,” Mentis said. “To date, 47,300 metric tons U.S. rice has been allocated for Iraq by USAID/USDA, and we are hopeful that more U.S rice will be used."

The U S Rice Producers Association, meanwhile, said it applauded USDA for its efforts to include U.S. rice in food aid and other export development programs, particularly in the humanitarian food supplies for the people of Iraq but that it would like to see more done to reopen commercial markets.

“While the U S Rice Producers Association would prefer to see larger purchases of rice for emergency food aid for Iraq,” the organization said in a statement, “the Rice Producers assured the Secretary Veneman of their commitment to work cooperatively to reopen the commercial market for U.S. agricultural commodities in Iraq.

Iraq was the world’s largest importer of U.S. rice in 1989, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Iraq was closed to U.S. exporters by Presidential Executive Order 12722 issued on Aug. 2, 1990.

According to Dwight Roberts, U S Rice Producers president and CEO, the Iraqi market was developed by servicing the trade with promotional funding supplied by FAS and U.S. producer organizations, backed by GSM-102 financing.

“During the 1980s, the rice industry worked jointly with several U.S. commodity groups to provide technical and other assistance under a U.S.-Iraq protocol,” says Roberts. “This was an expedient and cost effective market development program that allowed trade associations to send marketing and technical teams to Iraq or host Iraq delegations in the U.S.

“Together with the USDA, we can employ a similar approach today with either private or government officials, depending on the type of buying system Iraq adopts in the coming weeks and months,” he noted.

“No one can ignore the importance of this market to the U.S. rice industry when during the eight years prior to the closing of this market, U.S. rice supplied an average of more than 90 percent of the 3.4 million tons of rice purchased by Iraq. While this amounts to about 425,000 tons per year, in recent years Iraq’s rice import needs have grown to more than 1 million tons annually.”

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