USA RICE FEDERATION leaders expressed disappointment that a World Food Programme rice tender for Iraq has been awarded to Thailand. But they said they are hopeful that the Iraqi Grain Board's first rice tender made independently of the WFP might provide better news for U.S. rice growers.

The World Food Programme, which is based in Rome, announced March 17 that its latest tender for 152,500 metric tons of rice for shipment to Iraq had been awarded to Thai exporters. U.S. long grain rice currently is selling for about $150 per ton more than comparable rice from Thailand.

USA Rice Federation President Stuart Proctor said the current 75 percent premium for U.S. rice over foreign rice is proving to be a difficult obstacle to overcome, but that U.S. industry leaders are hopeful for a different outcome when the Iraqi Grain Board announces the results of a tender for 165,000 metric tons.

“The Iraqi Grain Board will have to factor in what they have expressed to us is their strong preference for U.S. rice,” said Proctor. “The board will also have to consider the reliability of our exporters and the shorter shipping times and other advantages we can offer.”

Proctor and other rice industry leaders met with members of the Iraqi Grain Board in Amman, Jordan, in February to discuss the needs for Iraq to rebuild its stocks of rice. The Iraqis used to buy 500,000 metric tons of rice from United States annually before the U.S. government imposed an embargo after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

“They told us they have a strong preference for U.S. rice because of their experience with our rice back in the 1980s,” said Proctor. “We told them we definitely want to help them rebuild that market.”

Proctor said he couldn't predict when the Iraqi Grain Board will announce the results of its tender. “This is the first tender by the Grain Board, and they may need extra time to go through the offers and make sure they make the best decision,” he said.

The USA Rice Federation is continuing to work with USDA and U.S. wheat industry officials on an invitation that has been extended to the Iraqi Grain Board to visit the U.S. rice and wheat areas.