AWB taps into Middle East wheat sales

24 Dec, 2001 10:00 PM
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With the war in Afghanistan looking to have peaked and the 'hawks' in the Bush administration now eyeing off Iran, the chief executive of AWB Ltd could be excused for skirting the sensitive issue of Australia's Middle East export program.

But Andrew Lindberg, speaking at rural lobby group AgForce's Brisbane offices this week, was keen to underscore the organisation's worth in dealing with some the world's most strife-torn markets.

Despite hosting some nine major conflicts over the last 30 years or so, the Middle East continues to shape up as one of Australia's most important export markets, encompassing more than 200 million people.

While 'big ticket' customers like Egypt and Iran account for more than 5 million tonnes of wheat each year, the Sudan (now approaching 500,000t), Yemen and Lebanon are now also earmarked for their potential.

The AWB points out it has registered an unbroken span of business transactions since 1948 with the Middle East - even though the US and UN currently have significant sanctions in place for most of the countries it deals with in this turbulent part of the world.

"But the worst fear for us would be if the US decided to bomb Iraq," Mr Lindberg said.

As to what it all would mean, he acknowledges a probable suspension of the UN's food-for-oil program.

"Obviously, if we are not going to be paid, then we are not going to provide product into the market," he said.

This poses the delicate question of finding alternate markets for Australia's quality grain.

"It would not be easy and I think it is fair to see there would be some impact on the pool," Mr Lindberg said.

"All I can say is that when the Iran/Irag war was on, we were there supplying both sides with wheat and both sides dealt with us, and dealt with us very well," he added.

The perception is that just such a scenario would result in short-term market disruption, rather than a complete question of market elimination.

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