WASHINGTON — USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service announced that U.S. exporters have sold 60,000 metric tons of rice to Iraq, the first sales of U.S. rice to that country since the 2000-01 marketing year.

While few details were available, rice industry leaders said the sale appeared to mark the culmination of more than a year of efforts to re-establish sales and years of trying to return Iraq to its former status as one of the top markets for U.S. rice and other commodities.

“The U.S. rice industry is extremely pleased to learn that USDA has received a sales registration for the export of 60,000 metric tons of U.S. rice to Iraq, our former No. 1 foreign market,” said Lee Adams, USA Rice Federation chairman and a rice miller from Texas.

Adams said USA Rice Federation leaders have been working with the Iraqi Grain Board since February 2004 to resolve the myriad issues involved in the consummation of this sale. Prior to that, rice exporters worked for years to try to restart sales that were halted prior to the start of the first Gulf War.

The announcement of the sale to Iraq was made with the release of the FAS Export Sales Highlights for the March 25-31 reporting period. The sale to Iraq 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.

“We’ll continue to work with grain board officials to insure that this is the first of many export sales to this key market,” Adams said.

“Our rice industry is to be commended for its successful efforts to regain access to this important market,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in a statement that called the sale “welcome news” for U.S. producers.

“Iraq previously was an important market for a wide variety of commodities, including rice, corn, wheat, feed ingredients and wood products,” he said. “USDA staff in Iraq and here at home have been working diligently on behalf of U.S. agriculture to develop that market again.”

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, hailed the rice sale to Iraq and the announcement that Taiwan was reopening its market to U.S. beef, which came on the same day, April 7.

“Opening America’s markets into Iraq and Taiwan are tremendously significant moves that benefit producers in the United States,” said Chambliss. “Taiwan’s welcoming of U.S. boneless beef affirms the reliability of science in assuring the safety and quality of American products in world trade.

“Iraq’s sizable purchase of U.S. rice regains our access to what formally was the top export market for American rice. In the case of America’s agricultural goods, the reliability and quality of our product sells itself, with these outstanding results made possible by our trade and agriculture representatives within the private sector and in government.”

U.S. rice exports to Iraq topped 500,000 metric tons in 1988 prior to the U.S. government-imposed embargo on exports to this market, according to USA Rice Federation spokesmen.

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