Sen. John Breaux, D-La., says that Coalition Provisional Authority contracts for food should be purchased from coalition partners, a policy consistent with CPA policy for reconstruction projects in other sectors in helping to rebuild postwar Iraq.

Speaking before rice millers and producers at a USA Rice Federation Government Affairs Conference in Washington, Breaux said that the U.S. government should be actively fighting to help move U.S. rice into the Iraqi market.

“When contracts for food are awarded, those countries that helped in the effort to free Iraq should be the first to provide that aid,” he said. The USA Rice Federation recently named getting U.S. rice in food aid for the Iraqi people the top priority for 2004. Doing so would mean regaining the U.S. rice industry's former top market.

During the 1980s, U.S. rice sales to Iraq averaged 345,000 metric tons annually, with sales exceeding 500,000 metric tons in peak years. The U.S. rice industry lost the market in 1991 as a result of trade sanctions imposed by the United Nations. In recent years, Iraq's annual rice imports from other world suppliers have averaged a million metric tons.

Breaux's comments underscored USA Rice's effort, realizing the potential of the Iraqi market.

“Iraq is an oil-rich nation that likes American rice,” said Breaux. “We need to get the Bush Administration involved in our efforts so that when Iraqis have their own money to spend, they will be free to spend it on U.S. rice.”

Senator Breaux, whose grandfather was a rice farmer near Rayne, La., served as keynote speaker at Monday's session of the four-day conference, aimed at bringing together members from rice-producing states, members of Congress and key officials in the Bush Administration to discuss current policy issues. Breaux praised the efforts of USA Rice to unite all segments of the rice industry on such critical issues.

“It is incredibly important for all to stick together, because when it's time to reach a consensus regarding public policy, it helps that you are all on the same page,” he said. “It makes it easier for those of us who represent the various rice producing states to come together on policy with one voice.”

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