Could U.S. rice producers be shipping more rice to Iraq in the near future?

Khalil Assi, director-general of the Iraqi Grain Board, says that besides a 60,000-metric-ton contract for U.S. long grain rice reported to USDA on April 7, Iraq is working to complete additional purchases of a substantial amount of U.S. rice.

At a meeting in Washington with members of Congress and the USA Rice Federation, Khalil said the Iraqi Grain Board is working on an additional five contracts of 60,000 metric tons and has a pending deal on a seventh 60,000-metric-ton contract.

Should the additional sales be completed, the total purchase would be for 420,000 metric tons. Iraq currently purchases 1.1 million tons of rice on the world market.

The Iraqi official’s comments, made through an interpreter, came during an informal meeting held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, in the Rayburn House Office Building April 13. Bonilla is chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

It was one of a series of meetings attended by a delegation of agriculture officials from Iraq and representatives of the USA Rice Federation, the U.S. Rice Producers Association, other commodity groups, members of Congress and USDA. The Iraqi delegation began a two-week course on U.S. commodity purchasing at Kansas State University April 18.

“We will work hard so we can import large amounts of U.S. rice,” Khalil said during a meeting at USA Rice Federation headquarters in Arlington, Va., adding that Iraq has two requirements for purchases. “It should be good rice, and it should have a good price — the international market price.”

Besides Khalil, the group included Ferial Jawoed, acting import manager, Iraqi Grain Board; James Smith, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, agricultural counselor, Iraq; and Saad Atallah, USDA/FAS, Iraq.

They also met with Reps. Charles W. Boustany Jr., R-La., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Ted Poe, R-Texas, Tom Osborne, R-Neb., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and Blanche L. Lincoln, D-Ark., both members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

“It is a privilege to once again have the opportunity to supply high-quality, U.S. rice to the Iraqi people,” USA Rice Federation Chairman Lee Adams said. “We will continue to work with grain board officials to insure many more export sales to this key market.”

Prior to the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq was one of the top markets for U.S. rice. Exports reached a peak of 500,000 metric tons in 1988 prior to the U.S. government-imposed embargo on exports to that market.

The announcement on April 8 that U.S. exporters had reported sales of 60,000 metric tons to Iraq marked the first of U.S. rice to that country since the 2000-01 marketing year. The sale helped drive net sales for the week to 138,600 metric tons, more than three times the previous week and 72 percent more than the prior four-week average, according to FAS.

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