Flugge's Irag challenge

30 Apr, 2003 10:00 PM
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PWA farmer Trevor Flugge

By TIM SLATER

WA farmer Trevor Flugge is in Baghdad this week preparing to help rebuild Iraq's agriculture industry after more than 25 years of virtual neglect.

Mr Flugge was last week appointed by Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Trade Minister Mark Vaile to lead a team of Australian agricultural and food security advisers to help the Iraqi people rebuild their agriculture industry.

Mr Flugge, who is on a brief preliminary visit to assess the state of the industry, believes the three-phase project could take up to 12 months to establish, but he only expects to be in-country for about six months.

"The first phase we will be simply trying to assess the current system of agriculture in Iraq," he said.

"It's been neglected for the best part of 25 - 30 years and we really need to just see where it is today."

The second phase will be to develop policies, including the provision of capital, finance for farmers and marketing systems, that can integrate agriculture into the new Iraq economy.

"All of that will need to dovetail into the policies that the government will develop for the general economy of the country," Mr Flugge said.

The third, longer term, phase will focus on technology transfer and helping Iraqi scientists get up to speed with western agricultural research methods.

"The country has effectively been starved of technology now for many years and what we will need to be doing is getting their scientists and our scientists together for general technology and development of their agriculture over a longer period," Mr Flugge said.

The Australian team will be providing high level advice on agriculture reforms and food security issues in a joint role with Washington-based consultant Dan Amstutz.

There has been concern that the US has been manouevring to capture some of Australia's traditional Iraq wheat market, which could provide an undercurrent of competition between the countries.

But Mr Flugge has known Mr Amstutz for a long period of time and believes the relationship will be healthy.

He emphasised the bottom line of the project was to try and kick start agriculture in Iraq.

"We will be trying to give the Iraqi people some domestic food security which they desperately need and generally try and get the country back onto a good even keel again," he said.

Although the Australian team is not directly involved in helping to improve trade relations between Iraq and Australia, Mr Flugge believes the project will be of benefit to Australia.

"Australia's long term interests will be best served by us performing well in Iraq and cementing the relationships that we've got," he said.

He said the AWB and other exporters were successful and aggressive exporters.

"I don't think they are going to have any trouble in maintaining their position in Iraq providing we get an economy that is sound and works well," he said.

"The best way we can serve Australian agriculture is to develop a better relationship with Iraq and give them confidence that Australia is a good, solid trading partner."

Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said Mr Flugge and his team will help assist with the revitalization of the Iraq agriculture sector and the establishment of viable rural livelihoods in post-war Iraq.

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