Iraq needs to purchase 86,000 metric tons of rice per month to meet consumer demand in the beleaguered country, the director general of the Iraqi Grain Board told members of the USA Rice Federation and its staff.

The statement by Khalil Assi during a meeting in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates Feb. 23 could mean an increase in the amount of rice being shipped by U.S. merchants to the Middle East, according to Rice Federation leaders.

Iraq began to purchase U.S. rice in April 2005 and, by the end of the year, had bought more than 300,000 metric tons, making it the third largest importer of U.S. rice in terms of value and the fourth largest in terms of quantity. U.S rice gained roughly 35 percent of Iraq's total rice imports in 2005.

“In December 2004, the USA Rice Federation made the resumption of U.S. rice sales to Iraq our No. 1 goal,” said USA Rice Chairman Lee Adams. “This goal has been accomplished with resounding success, and yet there appears to be room for additional growth for U.S. rice exports to Iraq.”

USA Rice has been meeting with Iraqi officials since February 2004 to make Iraq more knowledgeable about the U.S. rice industry and a more efficient purchaser of U.S. rice.

ADM, Riceland Foods, The Rice Co., and USA Rice staff met with the Iraqi Grain Board for an educational meeting to provide its members with detailed information on U.S. rice quality, purchasing and tendering specifications. The group also discussed the possibility of future educational efforts and promotional activities.

“Much work remains to be done, and it is clear that this is an evolutionary process,” said USA Rice President and CEO Stuart Proctor.

“U.S. rice doesn't have the 80 percent market share that it had during the 1980s, however, with additional informational efforts and promotion activities, U.S. rice exports will continue to grow making it possible for Iraq to resume its position as the No. 1 import market for U.S. rice.”

U.S. rice exports to Iraq topped 500,000 metric tons in 1988 prior to the U.S. government-imposed embargo on exports to that market.

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