28 April 2003

up a tree with GWB - the downside
The US Agriculture Secretary has appointed one Don Amstutz as agriculture coordinator in Iraq. let's not look at the official bumpf, let's cut to the chase with US Wheat's attitude:

Amstutz has a wide familiarity with markets, international commerce and government programs facilitating economic development. In addition to his private experience, he was USDA Under Secretary for International Affairs and Commodity Programs from 1983 to 1987 and Ambassador and chief negotiator for agriculture during the Uruguay Round General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks in 1987-1989.

The Australian government appointed Trevor Flugge, the former Australian Wheat Board Chairman, to head Australia?s reconstruction effort. A consummate monopolist, ?Flugge?s first priority will be to protect the billion-dollar-a-year wheat market for Australian wheat,? according to a story in Melbourne?s Herald Sun newspaper.

But Amstutz has a different view. ?I view the role of Trevor and me to be facilitators,? he told USW, ?to work with leaders in Iraq?s food and agriculture industry and provide assistance where needed and desired to help rebuild and reconstitute their industry. We will try to be helpful in all areas from production through post harvest functions including processing, distribution and trade. Our desire is to assist in revitalizing Iraq?s agriculture economy so that it can reach a healthy, expanding mode.?

At a press briefing last Monday, World Food Programme spokesman Khaled Mansour reported that by May the WFP needs to be shipping enough food aid into Iraq to feed the entire 27 million population. However, he said, ?the network of mills, silos and warehouses which make up the Public Distribution System, is still not ffully functioning.? So WFP has hired 10 milling experts to conduct countrywide assessments over the next 30 days.

Australia's Minister of Trade Mark Vaile speaking on 24 April about his May trip to Washington:

"I will stress to secretaries Veneman and Evans Australia's commitment to playing a central role in helping Iraq rehabilitate its agricultural sector.� The Government's appointment of eminent agribusiness figure Trevor Flugge and his team of experts earlier this week will spearhead this endeavour," Mr Vaile said.

"Australia has a longstanding agricultural relationship with Iraq, including as a provider of quality wheat and technical assistance in dryland farming and other fields.� It is important that we work together to revitalise Iraq's agriculture sector both to improve food production and to provide much-needed income and employment opportunities."

The NGO attitude to the Amstutz appointment seems quite clear:

Kevin Watkins, Oxfam's policy director, said Mr Amstutz would "arrive with a suitcase full of open-market rhetoric", and was more likely to try to dump cheap US grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market than encourage the country to rebuild its once-successful agricultural sector.

"Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission," Mr Watkins said.

"This guy is uniquely well-placed to advance the commercial interests of American grain companies and bust open the Iraqi market - but singularly ill-equipped to lead a reconstruction effort in a developing country."

I wonder was Australia consulted in any way about the Amstutz appointment? I wonder if Downer of Baghdad even asked before making his speeches about Australia's future role in agricultural reconstruction in Iraq? I wonder if Australia's involvement in the coalition will actually mean very much when it comes to reconstructing Iraqi agriculture. US Wheat seems not to think so.

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