Harkin Urges USTR to Examine Australian Wheat Board’s Unfair Trade Practices

WASHINGTON, DC – In a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Rob Portman, Tom Harkin (D-IA) today urged the Bush Administration to investigate whether the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) has violated U.S. trade law or World Trade Organization’s (WTO) rules and to take enforcement actions if such violations have occurred.  The letter also urges USTR to limit monopolies in agricultural trading through WTO negotiations.  Harkin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, was joined by Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and Ken Salazar (D-CO) in writing to Ambassador Portman.

“U.S. farmers should not have to compete with foreign governments in international markets,” Harkin said.  “AWB’s violations of the UN Oil for Food Program show a clear willingness to break international rules.  This puts American wheat farmers at a distinct disadvantage.”

The UN’s Oil for Food Program was designed to assist hungry Iraqis while the country was under trade restrictions.  Iraq was allowed to sell some of its oil in order to purchase food for hungry Iraqis while it was under trade embargo.  A United Nation’s (UN) audit of AWB’s participation in its Oil for Food Program revealed that it secured wheat contracts by providing the Iraqi government roughly $220 million in kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein.  Harkin’s letter today urges USTR to examine whether AWB’s kickbacks constitute an unfair trade practice under U.S. trade law or WTO rules and take appropriate enforcement action.

Monopoly control over a country’s agricultural exports, as AWB has over Australian wheat, generally distorts global markets. The letter urges this matter to be considered through ongoing negotiations in the WTO.

“The whole point of the WTO negotiations is to create more open and transparent markets,” Harkin said.  “AWB’s monopoly on wheat trade prevents that from happening.”