FUTURE trade opportunities in post-war Iraq was the central message Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile had for Western Australian firms.
Addressing the Perth business community at a breakfast hosted by WA Business News, in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Vaile said the Government was committed to ensuring that Australia received some of the flow on benefits of a restructured Iraq.
He also sought to allay the concerns of WA farmers, who are still owed money from the first gulf war in 1991.
The Government has already committed 100,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq, however both the Pastoral and Graziers Association and WA Farmers are concerned that the US is moving into the potentially lucrative market after it announced it was also sending 200,000 tonnes to the war-torn nation.
At the breakfast, WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl and PGA president Barry Court were assured by Mr Vaile that the Government was doing all it could to re-coup outstanding debt from 1990 wheat sales and was working to maintain existing wheat sales in the Middle East.
Following the breakfast, Mr Court issued a statement welcoming the confirmation that the Australian Government was treating the outstanding debt as a priority.
“Some wheat sales to Iraq were not fully paid for following the war in 1991 and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation was called upon to pay out a percentage of the money owing,” he said.
Mr Court said the sum owing was now in the region of $US100 million with the balance held in bank accounts that have been frozen since 1991.
“We also look forward to the reconstruction of Iraq and the recommencement of trade ties to allow Australian exporters to provide the people of Iraq with the essentials to rebuild their country. We are expecting trade opportunities to expand under a new Iraqi regime,” he said.
The South Western Alliance, a partnership between WA-Farmers and the South Australian Farmers Federation, said it would seek compensation from the Federal Government if the Iraq wheat trade was lost as a result of the war.
“America is extremely good at looking after America. This is fair but we expect the Australian Government to ensure there is as level a playing field as possible,” Mr Nicholl said.
SAFF president John Lush said that defending the wheat market in Iraq on behalf of Australia’s farmers was a priority for the alliance.
“It is no surprise that our plight has gained international attention. This is just the beginning of a global debate over post-war business opportunities in Iraq,” he said.
“Before the war in Iraq, Australia dominated the Iraq wheat trade and provided about two million of the three million metric tonnes Iraq imports annually.
“We are calling on the Federal Government to ensure our farmers do not lose this trade as a result of the war.”
Mr Vaile said WA firms were already well placed to benefit from any trade spin-off in the Middle East.
He said that with money from oil exports no longer being siphoned off by Saddam Hussein there would be more money available for other goods and services.
“All we ask is that we compete on a fair basis,” Mr Vaile said.
“But we are already ahead of the game to some extent because we have maintained our presence there.
“We, as a government, will continue to act on the behalf of Australian companies.”
Austrade is running a series of workshops to show what opportunities exist in the region for Australian businesses.
p John McCarthy, ambassador to Japan will be addressing the next Meet the Ambassadors breakfast on Friday May 2 as part of the International Trade Series hosted by WA Business News in conjunction with DFAT.
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