By Abeer Allam
Sept. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Iraq, which imports about 80 percent of its grain needs, plans to resume wheat purchases from AWB Ltd., the Australian wheat exporter that paid kickbacks to win sales of the commodity to Iraq.
``We are in constant contact with the Australian ambassador to sign a big wheat contract,'' Mohamed Hanoun, a spokesman for Iraq's Ministry of Trade, said by phone from Baghdad today. ``We are negotiating the amount and the price now.''
A United Nations' probe into the Oil-for-Food program found AWB paid $222 million in illegal payments to the former regime in Iraq to win wheat sales. The program was created in 1996 to soften the impact on civilians of sanctions imposed on Iraq. AWB controlled about 14 percent of global wheat traded last year.
Iraq imported most of its wheat from the U.S. and Canada in the past year, Hanoun said.
``There are about 850,000 tons of Canadian and U.S. wheat on their way to Iraqi ports,'' he said. ``But Iraqis prefer the taste of the Australian wheat. We are accustomed to it. Australia is also geographically closer to us.''
The Middle Eastern nation imported 3 million tons of wheat last year, and will buy 3.5 million tons in the year ending June 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Iraq's agriculture has deteriorated after years of United Nations sanctions, followed by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
To contact the reporter on this story: Abeer Allam in Cairo onLast Updated: September 17, 2007 10:00 EDT