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|13 November, 2018

Iraq considers Russian wheat imports

A delegation from Iraq is expected to visit Russia by the end of the year

Employees operate a combine machine and a truck during corn harvesting in the village of Alexandrovskoye in Stavropol region, Russia, October 4, 2016.

Employees operate a combine machine and a truck during corn harvesting in the village of Alexandrovskoye in Stavropol region, Russia, October 4, 2016.

REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko

BAGHDAD/MOSCOW- Iraq, a major Middle East grain buyer traditionally reliant on U.S. imports, wants to allow Russian origin wheat in its state buying tenders.

Trade Minister Mohammed Hashim al-Aani will send representatives to Russia to study its wheat quality and its suitability for use in Iraq's massive food rationing programme.

"The ministry will send a delegation to Russia to study the mechanisms of wheat production ... in order to paint a picture of its quality and types and how suitable it is for use within the subsidy card system," he said in a statement issued late on Monday.

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The minister made the comments after a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Iraq.

The delegation is expected to visit Russia before the end of the year, a spokeswoman at agriculture watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor confirmed on Tuesday.

Iraq needs an annual wheat supply of between 4.5 million and five million tonnes, and has an import gap of around two million tonnes a year.

The country spends billions of dollars annually on a Saddam-era programme for food rationing, the Public Distribution System, to supply subsidised bread and other essential foods to its population.

Iraq's grain board imports its wheat mostly from the United States, Australia and Canada. It is one of the few markets in the Middle East, alongside Saudi Arabia, that does not import from Russia, one of the world's largest grain exporters.

Black Sea sellers have provided stiff competition to the United States in North Africa and the Middle East and won market share in recent years.

Iraq's grain board chief told Reuters in March that Russian wheat quality may not be suitable for the production of flour for the rationing programme because of the nature of its gluten content. 

However, al-Aani, who was appointed trade minister in October and oversees the grain board, said Iraq wants Russia to participate in its state tenders.

The grain board regularly announces international purchasing tenders to import wheat for the food rationing programme, which covers flour, cooking oil, rice, sugar and baby milk formula and was created in 1991 to combat U.N. economic sanctions.

(Reporting by Moayed Kenany in Baghdad and Olga Popova in Moscow; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Kim Coghill, Darren Schuettler and Kirsten Donovan) ((asma.alsharif@thomsonreuters.com; +20225783290; Reuters Messaging: asma.alsharif.reuters.com@reuters.net))