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Syria wheat claims aim to make problems for Iraq: minister

A farmer uses a threshing machine as he harvests wheat crop in Arbeen, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Diaa Al-Din

LONDON/ABU DHABI: Iraq’s trade minister said Tuesday the country does not import wheat from neighboring Syria as the produce was not high enough quality, describing sales efforts by Damascus as a political move to “make some problems” for Baghdad.

Earlier Tuesday, a source with Syria’s state cereal body, the General Establishment for Processing and Trade (Hoboob), said it had sold 200,000 tons of wheat to neighboring Iraq in a tender.

War and drought have cut Syria’s wheat crop forecast to between 1 million and 1.7 million tons, agricultural experts and traders say. Before the conflict, Syria typically produced around 3.5 million tons a year.

Iraq’s Trade Minister Khairullah Hasan Babakir said Iraq required a gluten content of above 28 percent, which was higher than Syria’s wheat content. “We cannot receive from Syria,” he said on the sidelines of a grains conference in London.

“This is only a political issue: They want to make some problems for Iraq,” he told Reuters.

The Hoboob source could not be reached for further comment.

Syria launched a tender for a second time last month to sell wheat to Iraq from its eastern province of Hassakeh. It is selling Syrian wheat from its 2013 crop.

Babakir said it imported high quality wheat especially from Australia, Canada and the United States.

Babakir said that Iraq expected wheat production to rise to 4.2 million tons in 2014, reflecting government support for farmers, adding that it expected to export about 1 million tons.

“The quality of the Syrian grain is the same [as] Iraq,” Babakir said.

“We have 1 million metric tons for export so why am I receiving from Syria?”

“The quality which we need is not present in the neighboring countries,” Babakir added.

Traders have said it may be easier for Syria to sell its wheat from Hassakeh to Iraq rather than transport it back to Damascus.

The Hoboob source said the wheat was sold at 206 euros per ton, free on truck, adding that it had sold 100,000 tons of soft wheat and 100,000 of durum wheat.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 8.

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Summary

Iraq's trade minister said Tuesday the country does not import wheat from neighboring Syria as the produce was not high enough quality, describing sales efforts by Damascus as a political move to "make some problems" for Baghdad.

Iraq's Trade Minister Khairullah Hasan Babakir said Iraq required a gluten content of above 28 percent, which was higher than Syria's wheat content.

It is selling Syrian wheat from its 2013 crop.

Traders have said it may be easier for Syria to sell its wheat from Hassakeh to Iraq rather than transport it back to Damascus.


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