WASHINGTON (DTN)--U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary of Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services J. B. Penn said June 16, he assumes that the terms of contracts between the Australian Wheat Board and the Iraqi government for wheat, under the U.N. Oil for Food Program will be made public at some point, but that the final decision will be up to U.N. officials.
Asked about questions raised by U.S. Wheat Associates with Secretary of State Powell about whether the contracts AWB negotiated with the government of Saddam Hussein under Oil for Food will be reviewed, Penn said, "There is information on these contracts that's being developed, and this is to be reviewed by U.S. authorities with the U.N. authorities."
Penn added, however, that his office has not yet seen the information. Asked if the information will eventually be made public, Penn said, "I assume it will," but added, "This is still under the auspices of the United Nations, and I think that they are the people who have to make the decisions about how they handle the Oil for Food program."
Penn made the statements at a press conference with Dan Amstutz, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official who has been appointed co-senior adviser to the Iraqi agriculture ministry and is scheduled to leave for Iraq today. Trevor Flugge, a former AWB chairman, holds the same rank as Amstutz and has been in Iraq for several weeks. Flugge is the only non-American to hold such a high post in Iraq, and U.S. wheat growers have expressed concerns that Flugge will use the post to maintain Australia's wheat market in Iraq.
Amstutz, 71, said he would spend two weeks in Iraq and that future trips depend on what he learns on this trip. Amstutz said he believes Iraq's basic food needs are taken care of until September. Reacting to criticism that Flugge has been in the country and he has not, Amstutz said he has been meeting with U.S. agencies and international organizations in Washington in recent weeks.
"This whole area of reconstruction and revitalization is a complicated task, and it's really a mistake to try to simplify it down to just what business is in the offing in the near future," Amstutz said.
Penn also said it is "unclear" what kind of regulations Iraq has on genetically modified food--a reference to a statement by Flugge last week to an Australian newspaper that U.S. companies could not compete to sell chicken feed or soybeans to Iraq because Iraq has a ban on genetically modified foods. "It is unclear whether these were government regulations or perhaps specifications placed in some contract by the state trading enterprises." Asked by a reporter if previous rules or specifications were not "wiped off the boards by war," Penn said, that "under the Geneva Convention, I'm told that occupying powers have certain responsibilities, and if there were certain kinds of laws on the books before the beginning of hostilities, that the occupying powers have to respect those. There is a limit to what they can change and not change."
Penn added, "So very few countries in the world have a genetically modified product regulatory system that I would be terribly surprised if the Iraqis had given much thought to this before the war. We're looking to see what the regulations may have been or whether it was just an afterthought in some contract specifications, but we'll try to determine what it is, and we'll try to follow the rules as best we know them."